Barnstaple gets a taste of Italy

Joseph Bulmer

Italians to perform medieval ‘palio’ spectacle as part of the town’s fair week celebrations

THE pomp and pageantry of an Italian “palio” is coming to Barnstaple as part of the town’s annual fair week celebrations next month.

Around 40 performers from the twin town of Susa will be heading to the town to recreate the spectacular medieval sporting event in Rock Park.

Costumed classical and acrobatic flag throwing, archery, drumming and tug-of-war matches are traditionally contested between neighbouring towns, hamlets or “comunes” throughout Italy.

The events are a massive draw for locals and tourists alike and Barnstaple Town Council hopes that holding the event on the morning of carnival day will prove popular with the thousands of people expected to visit the town on the day.

Town clerk Anne Jenkins, said she had seen visited Susa and seen the palio a number of times.

“It’s quite breathtaking and promises to be the most colourful spectacle,” she said.

“It’ll be wonderful for Barnstaple to get a little taste of what an Italian palio is all about – the Italians are so excited about coming over to perform here.

“It’s in the early stages of planning but we hope everyone’s going to come along to Rock Park and enjoy the start of what promises to be a wonderful day.”

Mrs Jenkins said it was anticipated that the visitors would have their banners blessed in church before taking part in the carnival parade itself.

She said that while a group of folk dancers from Susa performed at Barnstaple Carnival in 2008, said she’d never imagined that the palio itself could be brought to the town.

“We always invite our twin towns over for the fair proclamation and were delighted to receive an email from the Mayor of Susa indicating she would be attending this year,” said Mrs Jenkins.

“The idea to stage a palio was their suggestion and we were only too happy to try and accommodate them.”

A civic party of seven – including Mayor of Susa Gemma Amprino – will attend fair opening at the Guildhall on Wednesday, September, 14. On the Friday of fair week, they will be joined by the performers themselves, who are laying on a special medieval banquet for host families at Pilton Community College.

A delegation from Barnstaple Town Council – including mayor Ian Roome – hope to finalise the details when they join Barnstaple Twinning Association on a trip to Susa later this month.

In the meantime, the town council is looking to hear from tug-of-war teams keen to take on the might of the Italian visitors. To express an interest in taking part, contact the town clerk on (01271) 373311.