Giangurgolo, the Calabrian Carnival mask

The traditional Calabrian mask? Giangurgolo, a funny talker
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Tradition and folklore

Feb 14, 2024 10:16 AM

Have you ever heard of Giangurgolo, the traditional Calabrian mask?

Let's take a closer look at the mask of Giangurgolo, the goliardic character who has conquered the entire commedia dell'arte since Carnival in Calabria.

Giangurgolo: history of the Calabrian mask

Giangurgolo is the Calabrian mask by definition, but what are his characteristics? Huge nose and sword on his hip, tall cone-shaped hat, bodice and unmistakable puffed trousers with yellow and red stripes... the colours of Catanzaro? Yes, but first those of the crown of Aragon, from which they have their origin.

According to this detail, Giangurgolo's mask would represent a satire of the city towards the Aragonese and Spanish rulers. But the character evokes much more!

Giangurgolo, one of the best-loved and best-known Calabrian masks in all of Italy, seems to be inspired by a character who really existed in Catanzaro in the 16th century, a certain "Gianni l'ingordo" or "Boccalarga", or a hungry chatterbox.

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The Catanzaro Giangurgolo was born in the Convent of Santa Maria della Stella, on 24 June 1596 (i.e. on St John's Day, after whom the orphan was named). According to legend, Giangurgolo came to the rescue of a Spaniard attacked by brigands. On his deathbed, he names him heir and charges him with liberating the city, taking the name Alonso Pedro Juan Gurgolos in his honour. From this moment on, Giangurgolo's fight against the Spanish occupation begins. In what way? By travelling through the streets of Catanzaro with a theatre carriage and a company of actors with whom, through satire, he incites the people to revolt.

From Catanzaro to Reggio Calabria and then to the rest of Italy, the step is short and passes through the commedia dell'arte, which will consecrate Giangurgolo's mask to a leading theatrical role.

Giangurgolo and the Carnival tradition

Thus Giangurgolo, a carnival mask, entered by right into the biggest Italian theatres, alongside the most famous and beloved ones, such as Pulcinella, Arlecchino, etc.

What makes the character of Giangurgolo unique? His attitudes, the way he speaks and one characteristic above all: he tells so many lies that he ends up believing them himself. Over time, his face is covered with a red mask and other details that better characterise his bravado.

Where to meet Giangurgolo today? Not only in the theatre but also in the numerous Carnival parades in Calabria.

Carnevale Catanzaro
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https://calabriastraordinaria.it/en/news/giangurgolo-the-calabrian-carnival-mask