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4 min.

The archaic carnival of Mamoiada offers a different look on Sardinia.

In a few days, Barbagia will be scary! But seriously, in a few days, on January 17th, the feast of St. Anthony in Mamoiada will be marking the beginning of the archaic Carnival.

Il carnevale arcaico di Mamoiada

It is a tradition very much alive that overwhelms this small town in the heart of Barbagia and disrupts its visitors, involving them in folk dances and stunning them with sounds and noises. A real carnival, except that it has something sacred…

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During my quick stay in Mamoiada, I had the opportunity to attend the dressing of the little Mamuthones and Issohadores in the courtyard of a typical house. It was fascinating, and even knowing that it was only kids, it still was kind of frightening.

Il carnevale arcaico di Mamoiada

The carnival masks of Mamoiada are two: the Mamuthones and Issohadores, and their origins date back in all probability to the Nuragic age, because masks of this type can also be found between the Aegean Sea and the Iberian Peninsula, as you can see visiting the unusual Museum of Mediterranean masks outside the village (4 €). This guided visit allowed me to understand that it is a tradition to venerate animals and protect people from evil spirits and propitiate the harvest. A true pagan ritual…

The Mamuthones of Mamoiada

This is for sure the mask that most impressed me, but I do not think I am an exception. Covered with dark fur and with bells attached to the back by leather straps, the face hidden by rude dark masks, hopping in synchrony as in an endless dance that shakes the whole neighborhood to the rhythm of their cowbells. Truly awesome!

As impressive, long and complex is the rite of their dressing that needs the assistance of experienced hands: sheepskin, here called mastruca, fixed to the body with the addition of several heavy bells, the carriga, through straps leather ranging tied with skill so to not move during the procession that lasts for hours. The final touch is given by the fearsome wooden mask, called visera.

Il carnevale arcaico di Mamoiada Il carnevale arcaico di Mamoiada

These masks are real masterpieces, and I suggest you visit Daniele Mameli’s shop. In addition to his store, you can visit his personal collection of masks made using different woods. I was really impressed.

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The Issohadores

They put me more at ease 🙂

They are colorful and elegant, with white pants and a shirt covered with a vibrant red bodice called curittu. The shawl tied at their waist is particularly beautiful, elegant as well as their boots. Instead of cowbells, they wear a row of bronze bells, the sonajolos, worn over the shoulder. Their mask is white and wears a neutral expression. Another story…

Il carnevale arcaico di Mamoiada Il carnevale arcaico di Mamoiada

Their “dance move” in the procession is light and is characterized by the launch of the rope made in woven rattan that they always carry with them. The soha is launched toward the chosen girl as a symbol of good luck, and I want to reassure you: it does not hurt. Quite surprising if you are not paying attention, but it is not painful at all.

Oh, in the Museum of Culture and Employment (4 €), which actually is nothing more than a tiny multimedia showroom (whose acoustics should be improved!), I found that the elderly say that the Issohadores are dressed like Turkish…

Mamoiada beyond the archaic carnival

Mamoiada is a generally small quiet, as quiet is the surrounding countryside, characterized by special stones: votive stones, dolmens, menhirs, and obviously nuraghi. The definitely most popular stone is Sa Perda Pintà, or the painted stone, known as Stele Boeli. A slab carved with concentric circles and cups.

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In addition to the stele and the museums mentioned above, I recommend a visit to the Shrine of the Saints Cosima and Damian, home to an important traditional pilgrimage that deserves to be told by the elderly of the village who know how to revive that past unique atmosphere… Another church to be seen is that of Loreto.

Where to eat

Actually, I should say: where to drink? Yeah, because my dining experience in Momodia is actually connected to an excellent wine tasting of Cannonau, which lasted for hours and culminated with the purchase of several bottles… as a gift to other people, of course! The cellar in which I got lost is that of Sedilesu, whose tasting was accompanied by cold meats, cheeses, and plenty of carasau bread, all served in a beautiful hall with a view of the surrounding countryside.

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However, the great thing is in the basement where they dug a tunnel to ensure physical and thermal stability to barrels and bottles. I do not know if it depends on this, but their wines are tip-top!

Apart from this stop that I recommend, if you go during the carnival, you will have plenty of choice among the dozens of stands offering any dish and typical desserts. Oh, the Sardinian biscuits!



Getting there

As told in the post on Nuragic culture in Bitti, I took the Tirrenia ferry in Genoa, and I was happily surprised because I still had in mind those awful boats they used till a few years ago. Their ferry is a mini elegant cruise boat, but I’ll tell everything about it in a specific future post.

When traveling with Tirrenia, you can also board your own car or rent a car upon arrival in Porto Torres to reach Mamoiada; it then takes more or less two hours.

Il carnevale arcaico di Mamoiada

A si biri!

Till very soon!

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Silvia's Trips

Hi there! My name is Silvia and after 15 years between the Paris Opera and the Palau de les Arts in Valencia I now run a boutique hotel in Cinque Terre, deal with tourism management and blogging, sail, horse-ride, play guitar and write about my solo trips around the world. For more info about me and my travel blog check my full bio.