Can you imagine a giant bonfire that reaches a height of 25 meters and a diameter of 20? It is the Fòcara (dialect word simply meaning bonfire), an unmissable event for believers and folklore lovers that takes place in Novoli, the province of Lecce, every January.
The origin of Fòcara presumably dates back to the 17th century: some historians attribute its birth to the Venetians who at that time were very active in Puglia producing and selling wine, oil, cotton as well as breeding horses. Others claim that it has pre-Christian origins, and used to mark the end of winter and the beginning of spring. Today it is an event that celebrates the devotion to St Anthony Abbot (Sant’Antonio Abbate), who officially became Patron Saint of Novoli in 1664.
The Fòcara is a symbol and pride of the town of Novoli: it has been classified as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by the Region of Puglia and locals are trying to get the recognition by UNESCO for the event as an “intangible cultural asset”. Furthermore, the Fòcara is also one of the main events of the winter in Puglia and throughout the Mediterranean basin.
It is a symbol of the type of tourism that we like to define as different, a mix of ancient traditions and pagan rituals that together with the beauties of the territory and the goodness of the gastronomy, aims to enhance the local area. In recent years it has gained a lot of media attention with full regional coverage and streamed live on the internet. The National Geographic has recently dedicated a documentary to the event.
The construction of this huge bonfire could literally be described as a work of peasant engineering, made by hand without the aid of mechanical means. Volunteers will start its construction from early December using thousands of bundles; each made of about 200 vine stocks recovered from pruning the vineyards during autumn. The bundles are carefully stacked one by one to form a giant and symmetric pyramidal structure with a tunnel built at its base. The official celebrations take place from 8th until the 17th of January and includes religious rituals, festivals, markets and concerts.
January the 16th is the big day: a flag depicting the Saint is hoisted on top of Fòcara. Early afternoon people carry the statue of the Saint on a procession through the streets of Novoli ending in the square that houses the fire and passing through the tunnel of the Fòcara.
Following the procession is the ceremony of the blessing of the animals, it should be remembered that St. Anthony Abbot, is also the protector of all animals from the stable and yard. Music, dance and spectacular fireworks herald the start of Fòcara that is set ablaze at 8pm and burns from the top to bottom. The Fòcara burns all night and all day; it is a magnificent setting to the various gastronomic and musical events that animate the whole feast.
The Fòcara, attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year, it is a remarkable event not to be missed if you are visiting Puglia at this time of year.
Photos of Francesco Sciolti and rainews.it