With the lighting of the spectacular bonfires in honour of Sant’Antonio Abate, an ancient, solemn rite performed in many of the island’s towns, Sardinia reawakens its spirit and enthusiasm during Carnival. Su Karrasecare has many different sides to it and each community celebrates it with its own traditions, vocations and spirit. The bonfires of Sant’Antonio mark its beginning with the 'first exit' of the traditional masks, and Ash Wednesday marks the end, with the beautiful, heartfelt celebrations in Ovodda. They are the first events of the year to enliven winter with ages-old rituals. Sacred and profane, passion and identity, exciting rhythms and magnificent settings like the one at Gavoi, where the tumbarinos (drummers) play. In every town, from the North to the South, you can enjoy typical carnival delicacies like fava beans and lard, pistiddu and coccone, zeppole (doughnuts) and fine wine.
Traditional masks, the de su connottu, re-enact episodes of rural life, they speak of the weather and the environment. In many communities of the Barbagia, deep in the heart of Sardinia, mysterious re-enactments unleash intense emotions in an atmosphere of dizzying euphoria. The main players in the Mamoiada are the Mamuthones. Dressed black sheepskins, they hide their faces behind grotesque wooden masks and perform ancestral dances to the rhythm of the cowbells they carry on their backs. All the while, Issohadores clad in red shirts and white masks attempt to capture the grotesque animal masks (and distracted spectators), with a lasso. In Ottana there are the Boes and Merdules, while in Orotelli the Thurpos (blind) are clad in hooded coats, their faces smeared with soot from the bonfires to symbolise the relationship between man and animals, master and slave. S’Urzu (monster or bear) is the head of a ram with long horns adorned with a black lady’s handkerchief. It represents a character typical of Fonni and other towns outside of Oristano, like Samugheo and Ula Tirso
The sos karrasegares a caddu are also characteristic of Sardinia and feature equestrian events that pay homage to the horse, a vitally important feature of rural life. From the daring Carrela ‘e Nanti at Santu Lussurgiu (Montiferru region) to the acrobatic antics of the Pariglie at Bonorva (Meilogu region), from the Pentolaccia a cavallo at Benetutti (Goceano region) to the one that plays out in Oniferi (in the Province of Nuoro). Of them all, the celebrated equestrian joust of the Sartiglia in Oristano may the most exciting. On Carnival Sunday and Mardi Gras men on horseback race full speed down Via del Duomo during the corse alla stella, or run for the star. They are guided by su Componidori, the race master and final judge who is neither man nor woman and is dressed by sas massaieddas. It is this character that decides the fate of the riders who attempt to hook the dangling star onto their swords and su stoccu, an augury for an abundant harvest.
Not just ancestral rites, but allegorical carts as well. Its deep symbolism makes the karrasegare osinku at Bosa (Planargia region) one of the most celebrated carnivals in all of Sardinia. Mardi Gras is a very special day. In the morning they celebrate s’Attiddu, when men smeared with soot don women’s masks and roam about town emitting high-pitched laments. After dark, the masked men are clad in white and go about in search of Giolzi (King George), the symbol of the festival. The island’s most famous Carnival, the multi-coloured festival at Tempio Pausania, in Gallura, boasts traits borrowed from both Viareggio and Venice. Other ‘classic’ events not to be missed are the Su Marrulleri at Marrubiu and the ones in Guspini and Samassi.