LI VLURD – The ancient carnival of Offida

Li Vlurd is an extremely old carnival celebration from the Marche region, in Italy, dating back to 1524. It was found described as “a fire orgy” in some 18th century books: huge torches made of cane and straw are carried on the shoulders throughout the roads of the town, without any kind of protection or cordoned off paths. The torch bearers, divided by congreghe – congregations – make their way through a drunken crowd. In the past, when the Marche region was part of the Papal states, the congregations were given the town keys by the prelatitium governor during the carnival period. He would also grant them the temporary freedom to do whatever they saw fit, reversing all social and power structures and giving vent to their wildest dreams, otherwise oppressed by the Church. At the end of the tour, the torches are thrown into a huge bonfire in the main piazza, putting an end to the week of carnival celebrations. At this point the crowd begins to dance around the fire, and the large amount of alcohol in circulation leads many youngsters to indulge in public effusions in every corner of the town. It is a wild party: an addictive, hedonistic, exaggerated, delirious atmosphere, related to the 14th century French “fête des fous” – the feast of fools – which can be considered as the predecessor of our modern day’s carnival. It is a slice of medieval life that survived throughout history all the way to our times, where the symbolic image of the fire representing transformation, freedom and danger is the sole protagonist, and it has been handed down as an identifying feature from one generation of Offidians to another, for centuries.

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