|The 8 metre high bonfire
Photo F. Pignatale
Il Focarone of Bagnaia is the biggest of the hundreds of bonfires that are lit all over Italy on the night of January 16th-17th in honor of St. Anthony Abbot, healer and protector of livestock.
|tower and entrance to medieval Bagnaia
For the entire week preceding the festival, groups of young people were hard at work setting up the eight-metre tall mass of tree trunks and other timber in the middle of the piazza.
The expert builders must insure that the bonfire will burn evenly so it does not collapse on one side.
|Il Focarone, ready for lighting
The mid-winter bonfire is a tradition that is strongly felt by the Bagnaioli, as the townspeople are called.
The festivities begin at 5 p.m. with a procession of costumed dignitaries representing important characters in the town’s long and sometimes tragic history.
|as night falls the festivities begin
These include La Pucciarella, a young girl who defended Bagnaia when the Lanzichenecchi lay siege to the town in 1527.
|the piazza resembles, in miniature, Rome's Piazza del Popolo
The flag throwers are followed by the igniting of the bonfire at 6:30 p.m.
The flames leap higher than the village rooftops heating up the piazza and the crowds who come from Viterbo and other nearby towns.
Bagnaia is mostly known for its magnificent Renaissance Villa Lante gardens, which are a perfect retreat in sultry summer weather, so it is a surprise to discover this tradition offering respite from winter's cold.