On Tuesday we travelled to Cocullo to experience the Festa dei Serpari. Taking place annually since 1392, the festival celebrates Domenico di Soro, the patron saint of Cocullo, who is believed to have made snakes from farmers’ fields disappear. As part of the festival, a statue of the saint is transported in procession draped with live snakes. This tradition follows upon the ancient ritual of Angitia, a snake goddess worshipped by the Marsi.
The train took us further into the mountains than we have yet been, some of which were still snow-capped (our first snow in a year!), bringing us to the small town of Cucollo perched up on a mountainside with a fantastic view down the valley. At the beginning of our train ride the train was quite empty and we were a little concerned that perhaps we had gone on the wrong day – but as soon as the train pulled into Avezzano our concerns were put to rest as hundreds of people poured into the train, until it was standing room only.
Cocullo is another one of the twisty turny medieval Italian towns with gorgeous buildings, doorways, and entrances. Too hard to describe – pictures will have to do….
It is incredible how many people come to the festival! For one day a year, this town of less than 1000 people suddenly has to handle 10x that many (or more, I’m not really sure). There was a constant stream of people going in and out of the church in the piazza and sometimes it was possible to hear singing emanating from it. We didn’t go in to the church, however, we did see the procession (complete with snake-covered statue) both as it went through the main piazza and as it wound its way back into the centre from the edge of the town.
To feed all those people there were lots of food trucks and other stalls selling goods – including cheese (super yummy!) and candy (I’ve never seen licorice blocks like this!)
We enjoyed very inexpensive pork sandwiches on fabulous bread and white wine sold in plastic jugs (2L for 3 euros!!) that was eminently drinkable.
Along with all the people, there were, of course, a fair number of snakes. Snake handlers could be seen throughout the town with snakes to look at, touch, and sometimes handle. Rowan wasn’t keen but Pippa was super happy to get to hold one!
And no festival is complete without fireworks – but fireworks during the day?!