La Notte della Taranta Festival (Taranta Night Festival) is one of the most popular summer events in Italy. It is dedicated to the Pizzica, a popular Italian folk dance that originated in the Salentine peninsula in Apulia. The traditions of this dance are centuries old, but the festival only started in the late ‘90s and consists of a entire night in which many famous musicians alternate their performances with orchestras while people dance to this obsessive, hounding sound.
Galatina in Apulia is the city where this tradition started; in fact the church of San Paolo was the place where people bitten by the spider went to drink holy water from a well situated behind the church. Every year on June 29th a Mass of exorcism is celebrated here.
What does Taranta mean? The dance’s name comes from the tarantula spider. According to the popular belief, Tarantismo is considered an hysterical phenomenon caused by the spiders’ bite with convulsions and a confused physiological condition; the dance was also meant to get rid of part of the spider’s poison.
The Festival Today
Nowadays many different orchestras and cultural associations recall the tarantati (bitten people’s) dance, even if it has a deeply different meaning than the original one. Tradition, mythology, ethnology, religion and psychiatry have interwoven and merged in this amazing festival that takes place at the end of August in Melpignano in Salentine Greece. The festival was first organized in 1998 by the Union of the Salentine Greek Cities and by the Institute founded by Diego Carpitella, an Italian professor of ethnomusicology at La Sapienza University in Rome who was considered to be one of the greatest scholars of Italian folk music.
With its 400.000 spectators each year, La Notte della Taranta is the biggest European festival dedicated to folk music and it’s well worth going if you’re in Apulia in August (this year’s dates are 11-27 August, 2012).