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Night on the Town in Pitigliano

I love fire. I love to watch things burn, especially large, highly flammable things. Effigy is one of my all-time favourite English words, and the burning of effigies is one of my favourite pastimes. And I love processions. So after dinner last night, I drove down the hill to the town of Pitigliano, in the heart of Tuscany’s Maremma region, to see the annual Torciata di San Giuseppe, a procession culminating in a spectacular effigy burning in the town’s piazza. The event traditionally marks the end of winter, and is a fascinating combination of ancient pagan elements given a modern catholic stamp, all stirred up with a good dose of local Italian civil pride. And lots of very fine Pitigliano wine.

To begin, 40 hooded youths bearing large burning torches of bundled canes marched in procession up the vie cave, the mysterious Etruscan ways, deep paths carved out of the volcanic tufa rock below the town. Torches aflame, they continued up through the town’s steep medieval cobbled streets, all the while shouting out in praise of San Giuseppe. In the square, cheered by a dense throng of onlookers, they set fire to a huge effigy—something akin to an old-school Burning Man made of straw, with eggplants for eyes, cactus for ears, and a bushel of celery for a nose. The drummers drummed furiously, the crowd roared, and the hooded youths danced around and shrieked as the effigy finally burned away and collapsed in a pile of embers.

Legend has it that a successful torciata bodes well for the year ahead, predicting bountiful crops, plentiful wine, and clement weather. At the end of the night, when the fire has subsided, one collects the ashes and takes them home for good luck.

All told I had a great night out—not only did I get to watch things burn (indeed, large, highly flammable things), eat hot salcicce sausages from the grill, and wash them down with the nectar of Pitigliano’s finest cantinas, I was also assured of celestial favour for my crops this year (the word on Pitigliano’s streets was that the torciata was a resounding success, which bodes very well), and came home with a large jar crammed full of very auspicious ashes.

Rudston lives in a land called Italy, where effigy burning and ash collecting is just another night out in town. If you’d like some of these unusual activities to become part of your usual routine, get in touch with Rudston for some brilliant trip planning help.

At the end of the night, when the fire has subsided, one collects the ashes and takes them home for good luck.

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