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“Hoorrah for Palermo and Saint Rosalia!” – “U Fistinu”: faith, folklore and tradition

Home » “Hoorrah for Palermo and Saint Rosalia!” – “U Fistinu”: faith, folklore and tradition

As the pilgrimage to Mecca is for muslims one of the 5 pillars of Islam and it is compulsory at least once in their life, I can guarantee that the celebration in honour of Saint Rosalia ( Fistinu) represents an important event as well for not only religious people. U fistinu, like many of the religious celebrations in Sicily, is a mix of aith, tradition and folklore. The worship of the Santuzza indirectly gathers young and old, rich and poor, religous and atheist people. U fistinu for the people from Palermo is sacred and, no matter what happens, we’d rather miss a cousin’s marriage, than miss this celebration! It is a very heart-felt and respected event all around the province of Palermo and its fame goes beyond the Sicilian borders, so much to be officially recognised an intangible heritage of Italy. During these days of celebration, people from all the province and tourists too go out in the streets, taking part with enthusiasm to one of the most heart-felt and typical moments of the place.

The Saint’s popularity, Rosalia de’ Sinibaldi was the real name, started to develop when she was fifteen, when she decided to consacrate her entire life to God and to deprive hersel of the noble statust. Then she decided to spend the rest of her life in solitude, living in poorness and contemplation. The Saint found peace and shelter in a cave on the top of the Pellegrino Mountain, which covers the gulf of Palermo and Mondello, and it soon became a centre of pilgrimage, especially after her death happened on the 4th of September 1170.
The real worship starts to develop in 1625 when the plague spread in the city and the Saint’s remains, found in the rock of the cave where she used to live, were put in an urn and carried in a procession along the streets of Palermo, determining the end of the plague. Since then, every year, a float is set up, followed by a historical parade that accompanies the Saint.
Today the cave is a sanctuary, a suggestive centre of pilgrimage and a tourist stop-over of uncommon beauty. The 14th of July, that is the day of the celebration, is nowadays a real artistic event whose theme, centered on the story of the Saint, changes every year and anticipate the religious celebration taking place on the 15th.

Every year, a different sentting, according to the selected theme, is realised with the collaboration of the schools of art and the artists from Palermo. This aspect always makes  this event spectacular, enchanting and peculiar.

The parade starts from the magnificent Cathedral where thousand of  people crowd the roadside, the railings and the garden walls to see the Santuzza passing through accompanied by the local band, Sicilian songs and, clearly, by the typical “Hoorrah for Palermo and Saint Rosalia!”. The owners of the historic buldings of the street open their balconies so that people can catch a glimpse of the frescoed walls and ceilings making the parade a 360 degrees open air show.

Il carro sfila per il Cassaro tra le bellezze del centro storico fermandosi in quattro tappe principali, in ognuna delle

The float passes by the Cassaro (the most ancient street of Palermo) among the beauties of the Old Town, having a break in four main stop-overs. In each of them a show takes place to celebrate the passage of the Saint. Dance recitals, water games, music and light shows with a suggestive background make this celebration one-of-a-kind. From the Cathedral the parade stops to the famous Quattro Canti where it is the custom that the Mayor of the city get in the float to wish the people a merry celebration with the usual “Hoorah Palermo and Saint Rosalia!”to which the crowd reacts in chorus in a blaze of rose petals, symbol of the Saint.

Da li si passa poi in piazza Marina e nella vicina Porta Felice fino ad arrivare al Foro Italico, il lungomare di Palermo e ultima tappa del corteo dove si svolgono, intorno alla mezzanotte, gli interminabili e colorati  fuochi pirotecnici che sono ogni anno sempre più lunghi e spettacolari senza i quali non è possibile concludere u fistinu

From there, the procession moves to the Marina Square and then to the close Porta Felice, until it reachs the Foro Italico, the seafront of Palermo and, lastly, the last stop-over of the parade where, at about midnight, people can see endless and coloured fireworks, every year longer and more spectacular. Without them the celebration cannot end: if the fireworks don’t last at least 20 minutes, the folk is not satisfied.

For the occasion, it is possible to taste the typical street food of Palermo, such as the famous boiled pollanche (cobs) sold by street venders with creative and quirky rhymes that amuse and tempt those who pass by, the boiled babbaluci (snails), u’ purpu, the boiled octopus as well as  many other typical delicious dishes that cannot be described with words just need to taste them!

Copyright photo gallery: Giulia Moscato