Carnevalone Liberato di Poggio Mirteto

The city square was a sea of pig masks, pregnant nuns and demons wearing pope hats. the steps of the church, where the gate and door were barred tightly for the occasion, were crammed with young people swigging red wine from plastic water bottles, cigarettes dangling from their mouths.

The air filled with discordant music, as multiple bands played throughout the town. We made our way through the crowd, stopping to marvel at the couple dressed as two semi trucks with Jean-Claude van Damme doing the splits in the air between them, who surely would have won the costume contest if there had been one. Vendors sold fried foods: divine ciambelle alle patate, donuts made with potato flour, deep fried and sprinkled with sugar, and salty fried pizza. Along with our food we purchased water bottles filled with wine for 1.50 each. The wine left my lips numb after the first bottle.

As the day wore on, the already rowdy crowd slowly disintegrated. We were accosted by a drunken Jesus whose friend Jack Sparrow was trying to convince him to stop drinking and come home. To the beat of a man playing techno music on a set of pot and pans we made friends with a black orc with homemade chain mail, and whose pirate girlfriend told me he works as a bouncer. And finally, our friend Lorenzo arrived dressed as a Batman Lego and promptly went into battle with The Joker and his projectile cup of wine.

As the lines for the overflowing port-a-potties lengthened, the giant paper mâché moka pot in the center of the square was set on fire. The flames roared to the beat of unseen drums, and the crowd went primordial, dancing like cave beasts in circles around the flames.

Our return train was packed with people smoking and singing and three chimney-sweeps who had lost their Mary Poppins, one of whom was puking in the toilet. We watched in awe as the ticket inspector approached us, then lept from the train at the next stop, chased by the jeers of the passengers, none of whom had bothered to purchase tickets.

History of Carnevalone Liberato

Every year, the Sunday after Carnival has passed, Poggio Mirteto, a small town just over 60 kilometers from Rome, celebrates what is known as Carnevalone Liberato di Poggio Mirteto, roughly translated as the Free Carnival of Poggio Mirteto. Carnival (what we often refer to as Fat Tuesday in the US) marks the last day of debauchery before Lent begins, a period which, in the calendar of the church, demands that the faithful deny themselves earthly pleasures for the next 40 days, until Easter Sunday.

When the Free Carnival began, the Vatican was immensely powerful in Italy and in the world at large. Priests generally took the role of town leaders under the power of the Papa Re’, or Pope-King. On February 24, 1861, Poggio Mirteto revolted, declaring their independence from the Vatican. However, in the interest of regaining their connection with the rest of the world (they were promised a railway station for their good behavior) the town became integrated with the Italian state in 1929. As the story goes, their agreement stated that while they would take part in the rest of society, they would continue celebrating an anti-clerical version of carnival during Lent as a symbol of their disavowal of the Vatican.

Read more about the history of Carnevalone Liberato in Italian, English, or Spanish.

Read more about travel in Italy and Europe in general:

An Introduction to Cheap Travel in Europe

How to be a Perpetual Wanderer

Exploring Italy: Matera

Exploring Italy: Alberobello and Castel del Monte

The Truth About Being an “Expat”

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