Italy // Abruzzo and Molise //

Chariot-racing in the Albanian villages

Buses from Termoli run to the isolated villages of Portocannone, 12km south, and Ururi, another 15km beyond. Their remoteness is such that, six hundred years after their ancestors emigrated from Albania, the locals still speak an Albanian-Italian dialect incomprehensible to outsiders. The villages receive most visitors during their annual carressi – chariot races. Portocannone’s takes place the Monday after Whit Sunday, while Ururi’s is at the beginning of May. The carresse is a fierce and furious race through the village streets on gladiator-style carts, pulled by bulls and pushed by men on horseback with spiked poles. It’s a ruthless business: the horses are fed beer before the race to excite them, and although the riders are supposed to push only the back of the carts, they are not averse to prodding the flanks of the bulls, who have already been given electric shocks to liven them up. The race itself is terrifying, but unforgettable, with bulls, carts and spikes hurtling past the frenzied crowds, nowadays protected by wire fences, though there are almost inevitably injuries. The comuni (w comune.ururi.cb.it and w comune.portocannone.cb.it) have information.