How can a simple statue express a love story? Find out with us on this journey through Apulian legends.
Grottaglie, a small town in the hinterland of Taranto, is an important city in the economic, productive, artistic and cultural panorama of Puglia. It is a historic destination in Salento, immersed in the landscape of ancient villages rich in culture. Grottaglie stands on the slope of one of the Murge Hills. Its historic centre symbolises Apulian architecture, where many artists have always frequented this place. It is here that art is created, and this is the art that gives rise to legends. These legends still attract us and make us discover beautiful places, transporting us to what is known as the birth of the creatures with moustaches, known as "Pupe". But what are they? Why are they created? Love is the centre of everything. But there is more.
Grottaglie: The Ceramics Quarter
Grottaglie is a land rich in tuff and limestone outcrops. Thanks to these resources, from the early 19th century, the town has been recognised as the Apulian Capital of Ceramics. It is the only Apulian ceramic centre protected by the D.O.C. mark. It is among the 28 most important cities for Italian ceramic production.
The work of ceramic artisans has become essential for Grottaglie, so much that an authentic Ceramics Quarter has been inaugurated. To the south of the old town centre, you enter a space where the rhythm of ancient manufacturing techniques marks the passing of the hours. A place where the only sound you can hear is the constant turning of the lathe, animated by the rapid movement of the craftsman's hands. His work still allows us to admire the excellence of Salento ceramics in a unique and authentic landscape.
Since the Middle Ages, artisans' workshops dug into the rock have produced popular works of art such as the "capasuni". These are wine containers painted in colours handed down from generation to generation, such as green, brown, yellow and blue and enriched with "grottagliesi" symbols. The Apulian artistic manufacture also produces more sophisticated works such as the "Bianchi di Grottaglie". Here, the so-called "Pupe con I Baffi" (Dolls with moustaches) were created in the shape of a bottle, with the features of a Junoesque woman. Today, these figurines represent the manual and artistic skills of the Grottaglie craftsmen.
A Strange Joke of Fate
Events that affect the history of a place are usually passed down from generation to generation in large paintings, influential manuscripts and direct testimony. Grottaglie, too, has its historical symbol rooted in a strange joke of fate.
It all began in the Middle Ages when the town was a medieval fief like all the others in Italy. At that time, the "Ius primae noctis", the right of the feudal lord to spend the first night with the beautiful and prosperous maidens of the feud, who had just been married, was in force. This right was to the detriment of poor husbands, who were forced to give in on the pain of death. And to the liability of women themselves, who suffered this bullying. But not everyone was willing to accept the harsh reality.
In Grottaglie, a vine-dresser had just married the love of his life. He did not want to share her with his master! He, therefore, had the imaginative and courageous idea of going to the lord feudal lord instead of his wife so that he could have the chance to kill him. But how could he get around the guards and go unnoticed? He disguised himself as a woman, and what a woman! She wore a beautiful, colourful, fashionable dress with an adorable feathered hat. He managed to fool the guards despite the large knife he was carrying. But one mistake, a simple oversight, was fatal. The nobleman soon realised that he had been tricked because the poor man forgot to trim his moustache in his haste. It is unclear whether he was arrested and killed or whether the sentence gave all his wine to the feudal lord. Indeed it was a demonstration of courage to defend his honour and love.
Photo Credit: Anna Busca, from Pinterest, @annabusca
"She had something a lot of men want: a moustache!"
The Pupe with Mustaches
Legend has it that many wine amphorae were found in the feudal lord's cellars. These amphorae reproduced the figure of a rather shapely eighteenth-century woman with brightly coloured clothes and a nice moustache on her face. This story gave rise to one of Apulian craftsmanship's world-famous works of art.
The "Pupe con I Baffi" are elegant sculptures made by the "Figuli di Grottaglie" who continue to create beautiful variations in their workshops in the ceramics district. Today, there are also "Pupas without moustaches" and "Pupas on horseback" called "Amazons", which are even more elegant.
But the most popular ones are still those that have a woman's appearance with a man's face as a friendly and particular testimony of a sad medieval ritual.
When and Where to admire Apulian Ceramics
To admire these beautiful ceramic statues, in addition to the Ceramics Quarter, two essential exhibitions are organised in Grottaglie that should not be missed. The Ceramics Exhibition in August and the Nativity Exhibition in December.
The Museum of Ceramics is also open all year round, inside the majestic "Castello Episcopio". This museum is the most important in Puglia on the art of ceramics. It houses artefacts from public and private collections that tell the story of ceramics when it was fundamental to people's lives, used for their hygiene and for preserving food. It then became important in satisfying the desire to possess a precious object to show off to guests in their homes.
Photo Credit: Emma Romanazzi Dazzi, CC BY-SA 4.0