Where’s the best place in Italy for festivals? There is no doubt in my mind: Sardinia, plain and simple.
I don’t mean to send you to the Costa Smeralda, the Emerald Coast, where rich, rowdy politicians hang with their Mafia buddies and a beer costs more than your rental car. You have to go inland.
Yes, the dusty heart of Sardinia is where the action is—and it seems like it’s getting a lot of play lately. The Herald de Paris offers us: Mamuthones: soul of Sardinia, heritage of humanity
Yep, that’s a dummy Mamuthone on the left up there. He guards a shop that offers masks and other traditional things for sale in the heart of Sardinia. Nobody exactly knows what the symbolic overload in their costume stands for anymore, but anyone willing to carry 30 kilos of oversize sheep bells on their back is ok with me. They do that and more at festivals, including roping unsuspecting tourists who thought they were going to be only passive viewers of the weirdest parade they’d ever seen. It’s Sardinia. You don’t just stand there with your hands in your pockets.
The festival closest to my heart is: L’Ardia di San Costantino. I saw it five years running. I even saw it on television once. You can’t imagine how deeply a religious horse race can resonate with a culture until you’ve witnessed such a thing while you were living with the 2000 or so people of the little village of Sedilo. Well, not until you’ve shared a glass of Vernaccia with every darn one of them. The same glass I mean.
And just today I discovered some coverage of the Ardia a piedi. I have fond memories of a foot race I and my archaeologist compatriots lost miserably.
In the town of Oristano, costumed men, women and horses race down a street at breakneck speed to skewer a star. It’s standing room only as Sa Sartiglia and the festival runs all weekend, starting with kids. See: Sa Sartiglia—with Video
In Autumn the mountain villages hawk their history and unique handicrafts and foods in a celebration called Autunno in Barbagia.
If you like people in traditional costume, you can see a parade with thousands of them in local dress at the Festival of Sant’Efissio in Cagliari on May 1st.
If it seems that these festivals are the festivals of a people lost in an ancient culture, I’m reminded that the very first talking cash register I ever heard was in a little vegetable stand in Sedilo. “Vente mille lire per favore!” it would cry out so you could empty your wallet.
That was over 25 years ago, an idea that just didn’t seem to catch on…