Origins of the Parade

The Parade has its roots in remote historical events, probably contaminated by several events over the centuries. This impersonate a narrative about western civilization that prevails over eastern civilization, on the Christianity that prevails on pagans, on the Christian faith that prevails over different doctrines. The celebration, the remembrance, the memory of specific historical events is represented following this common path. There exist at least four or five versions on the genesis of the Parade, suggested by different historians who dealt with the history of Potenza from antiquity to the twentieth century.

However, there are some still points, in a document of 1578 drawn up by the notary Scafarelli and preserved in the “Archivio di Stato” of Potenza it is reported a detailed description of the moment of the arrival of Count Don Alfonzo De Guevara in Potenza, accompanied by great popular celebrations and the arrival in the City of soldiers, courtiers, religious, musicians and other figures that at the epoch were part of the Renaissance courts. This important event is crucial to understand the meaning of the representation, since it is staged in the Parade itself. The Parade is mentioned in several reviews focused on the history of Potenza City, in particular the historian Emanuele Viggiano describes the event in ‘Memorie della città di Potenza’ (1805), Raffaele Riviello in ‘Cronaca potentina dal 1799 al 1882’ (1888), Giacomo Racioppi in ‘Storia dei popoli della Lucania e della Basilicata’ (1900), Mario Brienza in ‘La processione dei turchi a Potenza’ (1969), the historian Tommaso Pedio talks about the Parade till recent times (2000). On the contrary, the Parade is not mentioned by Giuseppe Rendina (1700) and Gerardo Picernese (1758) in several reviews regarding the history of Potenza City, this is probably due to the fact that at the epoch popular traditions were not considered important and foreign to religious and cultural canons. Several other authors, religious, scholars and intellectuals dealt with the Parade highlighting facts and circumstances that added further elements to its interpretation. In any case, the most likely interpretations made by the various historians can be summarized in five main scenarios:

  • 1) The historian Viggiano suggested the hypothesis that the Parade recalls an important episode of the history of Potenza, held in 1149 a.C; The celebrations and the permanence of the King and the Queen of France, Luigi VII and Eleonora d’Aquitania, in Potenza where they remained for three days. The Viggiano linked the celebration to an important episode that shook the imagination of the Potentine people of the mid-twelfth century: the liberation of the king of France, made prisoner by the Greco-Byzantine fleet, by Ruggiero di Sicilia. The Viggiano wrote “iniziarono i festeggiamenti indetti dallo stesso Ruggiero di Sicilia per aver sconfitto il male oscuro delle flotte saracene e fatto trionfare, attraverso la liberazione di un Re cristiano, il cristianesimo stesso. Tale accadimento avvenne a breve distanza dalla canonizzazione di San Gerardo (1119, ndr) per cui il popolo fu fortemente convinto che la flotta saracena fosse stata fermata grazie all’intervento miracoloso del Santo Protettore (book citation)”. This hypothesis is “naturally” able to link the figure of San Gerardo to Turks, however, it seems unlikely that the Parade could refer to historical facts so far in time, whose memory has been preserved until modern times after having crossed almost intact Middle Ages and Renaissance;

  • 2) According to the priest Raffaele Riviello the Parade had as foundation an episode of faith but linked to other facts: not the liberation of the King of France but the strong reaction in the fight of Potentine people who “riuscirono a cacciare le invasioni e le scorrerie di Saraceni – che si erano spinte fino alle nostre montuose contrade – con il coraggio che in gravi pericoli patria e fede sogliono dare (book citation)”. Therefore the Parade recalls the long historical period in which southern Italy was subjected to the invasions and raids of the Saracens first and the Ottomans then (800-1000 a.C.), of which there are dozens of certain evidences in several places of southern Italy;

  • 3) According to the Racioppi the origin of the Parade refers to the legend dating back to the eighth century of the martyrdom of Sant’Oronzo and his eleven brothers who took place on the Basento river (originating close to Potenza). Oronzo and his brothers led works of evangelization in Africa by converting thousands of infidels, for this reason they were captured and imprisoned by Valeriano, proconsul of Carthage, who led them to Italy by sea and then to Potenza. Here, Valeriano killed Oronzo and three of his brothers on the Basento river to punish their steady Christian faith. As a consequence, for “humana pietas” of the Potentine people Oronzo became the first protector of Potenza until the death of the Bishop Gerardo della Porta in 1119 a.C, acclaimed Vox Populi as a new Patron Saint. Racioppi highlights that the Parade contains several elements supporting this thesis, the infidels represented by the Turks, the Ship that would have led Oronzo from Africa to Italy, and various religious and devotional elements of the Christian faith;

  • 4) Now we came to the thesis of the priest Brienza, the very last hypothesis suggested in the middle of twentieth century. The Brienza suggested that the Parade is the celebration of the battle of Vienna fought in 1683 in which the Ottomans were defeated. The news of the victory probably reached Potenza in the October of 1685, arousing in the population feelings of happiness and encouragement. Brienza writes referring to the character of the procession: “estimenta esotiche, sgargianti, pacchianesche, bimbi che incedono a cavallo in piccoli abiti pontificali o in lillipuzziane armature angeliche, Mori e Turchi in fez e turbante, cavalli infestonati con campanelli e sonagli, Gran Turco (book citation)”. It is reasonable that the Potentine people gave birth to the Parade to celebrate the epilogue of the battle of Vienna with great celebrations;

  • 5) Finally we report the thesis of the historian Tommaso Pedio, probably the strongest from historical point of view. The Pedio suggested that the Parade is nothing more than the annual anniversary of what reported by the notary Scafarelli in a document of 1578 who describes the arrival in Potenza of the Count Don Alfonso De Guevara. At the event followed three days of celebrations, in which the people gave rise to parties, pantomimes and games. The Count arrived in Potenza in crossing the Basento river in the area corresponding to today’s “Rione Betlemme” (Bethlehem district with the ancient Roman San Vito bridge), here three castles were built to represent the battle of Lepanto of 1571, in which the Ottomans were defeated by Christians army of the "Santa Liga" (literally “Holy League”). Therefore, all the elements of the Parade can be found, such as the Turks, the ship of San Gerardo, the clash between Muslim and Christian faith;

There exist other historical evidences that can suggest different origins of the Parade, in any case it is noted that some references to the Turks and to the triumph of the Christian faith remain present in different versions. Numerous historical facts document the presence of the Turks in southern Italy. We have news of the Moorish incursions since the year 896 a.C., when the Saracens conquered large areas of southern Italy by pushing themselves to the Principality of Salerno and to the upper Basento Valley. Surprisingly, Potenza is the only place in the southern Italy where a celebration with a undoubtedly Moorish inspiration is celebrated but which was never conquered by the Ottomans. On the contrary, for instance, if compared to other small municipalities close to Potenza like Piatrapertosa, Tricarico, Acerenza and Lagopesole were the military conquest by Ottomans is historically proved and can be noticed today in different cultural and linguistic elements of the people communities, as well as in artefacts and buildings with clear Middle Eastern references.

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Origins of the Parade

Structure and Stages

Characters and Components