Pizzica, between legend and reality

The bite of nature instills a frenetic rhythm in the veins, a hypnotic harmony takes possession of the movements, the drumming follows the steps: the pizzica is on stage, between legend and reality.

The origins of traditional Salento dance, also called taranta, have fascinated dancers, enthusiasts and onlookers from all over the world for centuries. Retracing the stages of this mysterious rite, you can get in touch with the authentic Salento.

The origins in the countryside

According to the ancient local legends, the phenomenon of tarantismo germinates in the Salento’s countryside, where, under the summer sun, many peasant women working in the fields used to be pinched by the taranta, the spider whose venom gave rise to uncontrolled movements, evoked in the traditional dance.

The whole local community, family and fellow citizens gathered around the tarantolata, the sick woman, trying to heal her through practices that seemed to approach the ancient exorcisms.

Music was assigned the power to stimulate the pain to emerge: tambourines, harmonics and violins surrounded the tarantolata, which writhed with the rhythm, until she was liberated from the poison.

The salvation in Galatina

Ancient pagan rites resound in the music and rhythms of the taranta, but, according to popular legend, its narration is also intertwined with the Christian religion.

In Galatina, a quaint town less than 10 kilometers from Lecce, the Apostle Paul would have entrusted a man who owned a water well and his descendants with the ability to heal from tarantism. Many women would have crowded the streets near the Chapel of St. Paul, from the 1800s to the 60s, in search of liberation from the mysterious pinch of the spider.

Even today on June 29th, on the occasion of the Patronal Feast dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul, the streets of Galatina are filled to recall the rites of liberation of the tarantolate.


The celebration in Melpignano

At the sound of the tambourine the syncopated leaps of the dancers transform every countryside into a luminous stage and every stage into a wild countryside. This strong evocative power has made the traditional local dance of pizzica an international passion.

Nowadays, the place recognized worldwide as the main guardian of the magic of taranta is Melpignano, a village in ancient Salento Greece, about 25 kilometers from Lecce.

Just outside its historic center, in the former Augustinian Convent, at the end of August the town traditionally hosts the Notte della Taranta, the festival in which folk dance meets international musical influences, continuing the tradition of crossroads of cultures of the Salento land.

The cultural phenomenon, surrounded by mystery, of the pizzica certainly still has a lot to unveil, as demonstrated by the suggestive Historical Museum of Tarantism, at the Palazzo Marchesale in Melpignano.

Over the centuries many studies have tried to explain tarantismo between science, faith and folklore. We like to think at pizzica as a fairytale that wants to give us a metaphorical invitation to life: the pinch of the spider ignites an instinctive passion that cannot be held back, which flows through the veins of Salento.

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