Sorrento doesn’t offer just art and culture, but also folklore, with its traditions, its songs and the Tarantella dance. Without a doubt one of the memories of Sorrento which the tourist brings home, is that of the Tarantella.
The origins of this dance are uncertain as it is not clear whether it was named after the city of Taranto or the poisonous spider, the tarantola, whose bite is said to cause the dance’s movements. What is certain is that the character of the Tarantella is clearly popular as it was once used to celebrate important moments of country life.
In our countryside, it was used in particular to celebrate the vine harvest, whose inebriating atmosphere was an invitation to happiness. Although the Tarantella was widespread throughout southern Italy, its greatest fame was attained in Sorrento, where it is still important as a sign of the uninterrupted tradition of a popular custom. In its moves, in the costumes, so cheerful and vibrant in colour, the fresh grace of a popular but uncommon dance is revived and, with exquisite gracefulness, it exalts the charms of our area.
The rhythm of the Tarantella is always lively and the lyrics, whether common or refined, are always accompanied by typical instruments like the mandolin, the guitar and the violin with the rhythm beaten on tambourines and castanets by the dancers.
The particular charm of the Tarantella has always held an attraction for poets and writers such as Goethe, Lamartine, Stendhal, De Boucard, the De Gouncourt brothers; for musicians such as Rossini, Liszt, Mendelssohn; for artists like Pinelli, Vemet, Lindstrom, each of whom, in their own field, left an everlasting memory of this dance. Not to mention the dozens of songs written to its rhythm.
What does the Tarantella represent? The most sublime and natural of sentiments combined: it’s Love -”It’s a story, a love poem” - as Emanuele Bidera wrote in 1844; “Every glance has an amorous meaning. The first loving look, the declaration, the shy refusal, consent, jealousy, making up and tender looks, the placid and tranquil repulses, all resolved with energetic and noisy dashes like two pigeons who bend, touch and then take flight, to return more amorous than before”. The great simplicity of the theme can be seen, natural and effective with its music and songs. The dance takes the spectator to an unreal and magical world, carrying him back to the dimension of the simple, honest, carefree life of the “good old days” when so little was necessary to have fun and be happy.
During Easter, ancient, sacred rites are renewed throughout the Sorrento peninsula, a sign of a centuries-old faith collectively perceived and much felt, as well as of Catholic values which on the peninsula have origins and roots as old as Catholicism itself.
Good Friday is a day of suffering for the Catholics, for it remembers the crucifixion of Christ on Calvary. The meaning of the Passion of Christ is plainly visible in the numerous hooded processions performed in all towns of the Sorrento peninsula.
Arranged by the lay orders, they involve thousands of people in heartfelt and moving participation in the event they represent. These processions are of ancient origin, dating back to the sacred representations of Mediaeval times and from the old penitential processions of Maundy Thursday during which members of the religious brotherhoods, dressed in robes and carrying lighted torches, wandered between the various Churches in adoration of the Holy Eucharist.
This tradition is still followed today, for example, by processions in Piano di Sorrento and Meta, held right after «Coena Domini» Mass, that tour the various Sepulchres.
All the processions have an identical process in common regarding the symbolic objects carried by participants: the style of their robes - differing only in colour depending on the brotherhood, with preference given to white for the processions held at dawn on Good Friday and black for those held later that evening. In addition, the poignant chorus of the Miserere, with the musical band at the head of the processional cortège performing the famous funeral march from Chopin’s Opus 35.
The current day processions recall those in Spain, influenced by the Spanish viceroys that reigned over Naples at the end of the 1600s and who, mostly via the Jesuits, numerous on the peninsula at the time, worked to disseminate this penitential rite typical of the Spanish Counter-Reformation. Crosses, the hammer and nails, the crown of thorns, bloodstained whips, the sponge soaked in vinegar, the Veil of Veronica, spears, dice, the cockerel, objects reminiscent of the Passion and Death of Christ known as the “martiri”, alternate in the sombre light of torches and lamps, creating an unnerving atmosphere of remembrance and mysticism in the silent crowd of spectators. In the morning the statue of the Madonna is borne in procession, representing the Mother searching for her Son. In the evening, Our Lady of Sorrows, mourning the end of her Son’s life on earth, is accompanied by an effigy of the Dead Christ. Around thirty processions are held in the peninsula. To discuss all of them would be lengthy and tedious. The best known in Sorrento are: the “White Procession” held in the early hours of Good Friday, organized by the Archbrotherhood of Santa Monica from the Church of the Annunziata and the "Black Procession" of the Archbrotherhood of the Servi di Maria held in the evening. Also fascinating are those of Vico Equense, with the hooded procession in purple robes organized by the Archbrotherhood of the Assunta, the procession organized by the Holy Trinity of Piano di Sorrento in red, and the “Black Procession” of the Archbrotherhood della Morte e Orazione, also in Piano di Sorrento. All the processions, however, have their own charm, highlighting a moment of faith, albeit an exterior demonstration, combined with the culture typical of our local area.
Christmas and New Year also have a special charm in Sorrento. Warm coloured lighting and colourful decorations give the town a particular look, and the atmosphere portends a charming festive period. In fact, while Sorrento is showing off its Christmas look, frenetic activities are going on to put into action the myriad activities which will make every moment the visitors spend in the Sorrentine Peninsula an unforgettable one.
A rich calendar of events means that you just need to choose. Every day there is at least one event that deserves to be experienced. The highlights will obviously take place on Christmas, New Year’s Eve and especially New Year’s Day, but there are occasions to make every day up to the Epiphany special.
Don’t miss the many marvellous Nativity scenes hidden in every nook and cranny of Sorrento, built according to the traditional Neapolitan art of crib making,
You will find them everywhere: in the main churches and in the Sedile Dominova, but also in the joyfully lit windows of Corso Italia, the main street for shopping.
The art of wood-working in Campania has ancient origins and traditions but Sorrentine wood inlay has a separate glorious history.
What makes this unique inlay so special is not just the mastery and inventive of the local artisans but their profound knowledge of the material. It is, in fact, very difficult to recognise and choose the diverse qualities of wood to create such a chromatic effect permitting delicate designs.
Visit the Museo Bottega of the tarsia lignea (Wooden Marquetry Shop-Museum), a rich, historical and interesting collection of inlaid wooden furniture and objects produced in the 19th century by sorrentine marquetry masters
More info on the web site: www.alessandrofiorentinocollection.it
Foto di Agostino Di Maio