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Food festivals, known as sagre, abound in Italy. Often held in small towns and dedicated to the quintessential local foodstuff, sagre offer the chance to taste regional specialities and delve into local culture. The Sagra degli Agrumi, or Citrus Festival, in Sardinia features tastings, traditional folk songs and a parade of terrifying furry monsters.
Held at the beginning of April in the town of Muravera on Sardinia’s southeast coast, the Sagra degli Agrumi marks the end of the citrus season. Around the time of the festival, new blossom appears on trees in the citrus groves, eventually maturing into fruit that will be harvested in the colder months to come. In celebration of the region’s prized produce (and the arrival of a welcome break for those who work in the agrumeti, or citrus orchards), the town hosts a three-day bash showcasing the best local produce.
Thanks to Sardinia’s long, hot summers and mild winters, the island enjoys the perfect climate to grow citrus and residents of Muravera are especially proud of their oranges. Visitors to the sagra can sample a range of recipes infused with the fragrant fruit – think typical dishes like ricotta-filled pardulas or fried sebadas pastries, as well as an array of jams, liqueurs and sweets.
The highlight of the festival, however, is not the food but a chaotic and colourful parade of traditional Sardinian folk groups. Donning elaborate costumes and performing the customary dances of their communities, the participants come from across Sardinia to celebrate their heritage at the Sagra degli Agrumi. Ox-drawn carts, known as traccas, are decorated with vibrant citrus while launeddas, wind instruments made of reeds, provide the soundtrack to the day.
Among the depictions of traditional country life is also something more sinister. Monstrous characters with twisted horns, grotesque masks and thick pelts of fur also make their way along the parade route, occasionally taunting the crowd as they go.
Some creatures have animal horns or skulls while others carry bells on their backs, and find themselves hunted down by other characters in this strange Sardinian play.
Though the Citrus Festival of Muravera is less than 50 years old, the origin of the menacing figures goes back much further. The modern ceremony is thought to descend from ancient pagan rituals linked to Sardinia’s deep pastoral roots, when similar ceremonies would take place in the hope of ensuring an abundant harvest or hunting season.