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Abstract

Religious ceremonies play an important role when understood as an opportunity for improving the image of a city, improving the socio-economic situation and promoting regional development. These are the objectives of the local administration in Novoli, a small town in the Salento peninsula in Puglia, south-eastern Italy. The most important religious, social and tourist event of the year in Novoli is the feast of Saint Anthony Abbot, which falls on the 17th of January. The festivities continue for many days and include religious rites, street lights, exhibitions, food stands, popular music and brass band concerts, markets and conferences. There are numerous attractions not only for pilgrims and those devoted to the saint, but also for lovers of folklore and the simply curious. There is a wine fair, a market and the museum of contemporary art, as well as conferences and meetings of various kinds. The event that sees the greatest involvement of the local community is the building of the monumental bonfire known as the fòcara, made up mainly of vine branches, which is set alight the evening before the day of the saint. In the afternoon before the lighting of the fire, after mass, the statue of the saint is carried in procession through the streets of the town. In the evening the pyre is lit by setting off batteries of fireworks that run up the sides of the bonfire to the top, with spectacular effects. The other key location during the festivities is the sanctuary of the saint, which sees a constant flow of worshippers and pilgrims.

This study seeks to analyse the event of the Fòcara of Sant’Antonio in Novoli, the biggest bonfire in the Mediterranean, attracting more than 150,000 spectators a year. Making extensive use of mass media, the event involves a substantial commitment in terms of finance and human resources. Although this is clearly necessary for the promotion of local identity, in terms of the hoped-for increase in tourism and the development of a marginal rural area in the Italian Mezzogiorno, the results have been poor.

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