Travel tips - Traditions

The Puppet Opera and Sicilian puppeteers

Written by Eliana Iorfida, 11/11/18

Don't call them puppets! The Sicilian Puppet Theater is more than just a puppet theater: it is con-sidered a UNESCO Intangible Heritage - a true Mediterranean story!

The Puppet Opera and Sicilian puppeteers

What we are about to do is to take you on a journey that involves one of the most fascinating traditions of Sicily and the Mediterranean. This voyage - see through the eyes of Sicilian puppets - will lead us through the most beautiful cities on the island and enable us to discover the Sicilian Opera and the historic puppeteers' families.

The Puppet Theater, which is one of first among the Italian traditions to be proclaimed an "Intangible Heritage" by UNESCO, is a particular type of puppet theater born in Sicily between the ni-neteenth and twentieth centuries.

What distinguishes Sicilian puppets from all others? On the one hand, the Sicilian puppet which comes from the Latin “pupus” (child), is the sole interpreter of the exploits of Charlemagne and his paladins: these stories were staged by reworking the poems of the Carolingian Cycle, the History of the Paladins of France and Orlando Furioso.

On the other hand, the Sicilian puppets provide a truly exceptional maneuvering mechanism:

In the eighteenth century, the ancient Sicilian puppet was animated by the puppeteer from above by means of a thin rod connected to the head and a series of threads that led to the arms and legs. In the first half of the nineteenth century, a brilliant intuition ensured that the rod crossed the Sicilian puppet from the inside, allowing for faster and more decisive movements. This was perfect for emulating the typical duels of the knightly stories “. 

Museo dei Pupi di Siracusa (Ph: Giovanni Dall'Orto)

The two different "styles" of the Opera dei Pupi between Catania and Palermo

Following in the footsteps of the Sicilian Puppet Theater, a precious intangible heritage of sou-thern Italy, we move on to discover the secrets of the historical puppeteers. We will watch the shows at Sicily's most beloved puppet theater but first we will make a pit stop in Catania and Palermo.

Richly decorated and chiselled, Sicilian puppets vary in movements depending on the school they belong to: the “the Palermo puppets” are light and articulated, while the “Catania puppets” are hea-vier and have fixed limbs.

Catania and the Sicilian puppets of don Gaetano Crimi

The chronicles tell us that the founder of the Sicilian Opera in Catania was don Gaetano Crimi (1807-1877), who opened his first puppet theater in 1835

Today, a visit to the "City of the elephant", can not be kept separate from a stop at the Naples brothers puppet theater - puppeteers since 1921: the ancient shop is located in the historic center of Catania, near the Castello Ursino and the Pescheria. From the time of Gaetano Napoli to the present day, the "knowledge of the hand" and the rules of the trade that made the Opera of the Sicilian Puppets great was handed down. 

Pupi catanesi

The Palermitan Puppet Opera

The richest puppet collections can be admired in Palermo at the Antonio Pasqualino International Puppet Museum and at the Giuseppe Pitré Ethnographic Sicilian Museum.
Fans of the Sicilian Puppet Theater can visit Palermo in November, when the "Morgana Festival" takes place and the city turns into a veritable open-air puppet theater.

Da non perdere: uno spettacolo di pupi al Teatro della famiglia Argento! Not to be missed: a puppet show at the Argento Family Theater!

The Puppet Opera throughout the rest of Sicily

The other Sicilian cities are no less important in terms of puppets and puppeteers.
Siracusa, for example, as well as hosting Greek tragedies, is home to the Teatro dei Pupi in Siracusa: a small treasure located in the heart of the historic center of Ortigia, and belongs to the puppet company of Vaccaro and Mauceri.

The entire province of Catania boasts important theaters for the Sicilian Opera.

In Alcamo, the Opera dei Pupi was reborn thanks to Salvatore Oliveri, the nephew of the famous puppeteer Don Gaspare Canino who obtained a permanent place for his theater inside the Castello dei Conti di Modica, where several shows take place throughout the year.

Teatro dei Pupi di Alcamo

If you are on holiday at Caltagirone, in addition to admiring famous ceramics, you can appreciate the Sicilian Puppet Theater-Museum in Via Verdumai. After its restoration, it today houses a per-manent exhibition of Sicilian puppets belonging to the Gesualdo collection Pepe containing posters and historical books in addition to the showroom,.

The Opera dei Pupi run by master Turi Grasso located in Acireale continues to represent the great tradition of the Acesi puppeteers who were witnesses of the Sicilian popular culture that tells us about the world of exciting stories and epic deeds.

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Catania (Italian: [kaˈtaːnja] ( ); Greek: Κατάνη [katánεː]; Latin: Catana [ˈkatana] and Catina) is an Italian city on the east coast of Sicily facing the...

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