The ‘night of nights’ falls between 1 November, All Saints’ Day, and 2 November, the Commemoration of the Dead. On the street corners in Orsara di Puglia bonfires are lit (called in the local dialect ‘fuca coste’) with branches of brooms and are left to burn until the following morning. The flames purify the souls in Purgatory (the ‘cocce priatorije’) before they embark on their own journey towards Heaven. Legend has it that on this night the souls come back among the living to go to visit relatives in the homes where they had once lived; after having warmed themselves next to the bonfires prepared by the older inhabitants of the village, they will then continue their pilgrimage.
To help the souls to recognise their own home, the families place a carved out pumpkin containing a candle in front of every doorway. Pumpkin carving workshops are also organized for children. You cannot fail to notice the remarkable similarity with Halloween, but this should not mislead you. Do not think that the ‘Fuca coste e cocce priatorije’ is Puglia’s variation of the American-Celtic festival that has only been imported into Italy in recent years. Far from it! This local festival has ancient origins and is completely autonomous. The obvious similarities between these two events in countries so far away can only be explained by an anthropological-cultural comparative study.
Do not show up, therefore, dressed as witches and wizards because it would not go down well. Going back to the festival, while the smoke spreads throughout the air creating a magical atmosphere, the streets of this village made of stone are lined with tables containing traditional dishes: cheese baked in foil, sausage, grilled meat, onions, potatoes and chestnuts cooked under coals, and boiled wheat seasoned only with cooked must; all accompanied by local wines.
Meanwhile, tourist guides accompany visitors through the streets of the historic centre, to the grotto of San Michele, to the secrets of the Abbey dell’Annunziata, the Diocesan Museum and to discover the other treasures in the village.