The “Varia” of Palmi, a Calabrian-made masterpiece of human heritage


The “Varia” of Palmi is the first Calabrian item to be recognized as a masterpiece of human heritage by Unesco. It undoubtedly is a historic goal, achieved by the Varia together with the Lilies of Nola, the Tower of Santa Rosa in Viterbo and the Candlesticks of Sassari (which are generally described as shoulder-borne processional structures) . The proclamation, issued in December, 2013 during the eighth session of the Unesco intergovernmental committee in Baku, Azerbaijan, was an event of global resonance.

The Varia is a majestic apical-shaped structure, a sacred carriage which reaches a height of about 16 meters and whose intended meaning is the representation of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven. The oak base it is laid upon, which is called a “cippu”, was made at the end of the 19th Century.

The emotional impact of this event is enormous, as it enraptures the whole local community for several days in a row, compelling them to partake of centuries old rites, one of which is the so-called “scasata”, the firing of a cannonball with which the beginning of this peculiar procession is announced.

All along its itinerary, the huge machine rests on the shoulders of 200 ‘mbuttaturi, youths who belong to five different guilds: they are artisans, shepherds, peasants, carters and sailors. The rather heavy structure, which is made of iron and coated with silver papier-maché, is also carried along Corso Garibaldi (the main street of Palmi) by means of two cords tied to its sides. A little girl, elected by the inhabitants of Palmi to personify the Virgin Mary, can be seen sitting on top of the structure. The Animeddha (little soul), as she is called for the occasion, blesses the population on the way, whereas the Padreterno, a youth also elected by the people of Palmi to personify God Almighty, stays right below her to sustain her and give her courage.

Considering the gamut of religious nuances entailed in the procession, and how deeply interrelated they are with the traditions of the population of Palmi from a historical perspective, the Unesco proclamation is a truly crucial goal for a project coordinated by Dr. Patrizia Nardi and started a few years ago.

From the province of Reggio Calabria to the whole world. The real significance of the proclamation of the Varia as a masterpiece of human heritage, together with the other machines included in the “Celebrations of big shoulder-borne processional structures” network, just cannot go unnoticed:  owing to this project, it has been possible to bring a local event across the borders of a small town in the South of Italy and present it to the eyes of the world.

The real strength of the Varia will have to be proved through the capability to renew this tradition as well as to keep up with the changes made and maintain them in time. The most recent Celebrations were held on the last Sunday of August, 2014, and there is no fixed periodical occurrence to this day. Carrying out in-depth study of all that revolves around the Varia is certainly worth it. By visiting the locations where the festivity takes place, and listening to tales about it, recounted by both the older and younger generations, one cannot fail to acknowledge that the Varia really must be regarded as an event endowed with an intangible quality which goes well beyond the physical structure of the “sacred carriage”.