The small town of Galatina has long been a pilgrimage centre for tarantate – women (mostly) who have been “possessed” by the mythical spider of Puglia. Tarantism dates back centuries in this region, with the earliest known accounts of it appearing in manuscripts from the fifteenth century. Victims believed that they had been bitten by the Italian tarantula, or the European black widow spider. After descending into a funk of symptoms that included vomiting and sweating, fear and delirium, depression and paranoia, the only cure was the rite of the tarantula, which involved trance-dancing to the local tarantella, or pizzica, for days on end. The pizzica musicians – typically a violinist, guitarist, accordion and tambourine player – would perform fast and feverishly, engaging the victim in a call-and-response ritual, until eventually they were released from their misery.

The cult has continued to fascinate Salentines and others into this century, with the myth and music being both preserved and reinvented. St Paul, patron saint of the tarantate, is revered and celebrated to this day in Galatina and surrounding villages. On the night of June 28 around 10.30pm there is a procession from Piazza San Pietro to the chapel of St Paul, followed by performances by drummers and musicians from across the region, lasting until dawn of June 29 – the feast day of saints Peter and Paul. Around 4.30 or 5am, the musicians, dancers, tarantate and tourists gather at St Paul’s chapel to pay their respects before the crowds arrive for the official early morning Mass. Today, pizzica music is enjoying a boom in the Salento and elsewhere. It’s worth timing your visit to coincide with the all-night music festival The Night of the Tarantula (La Notte della Taranta; wlanottedellataranta.it), held in late August at Melpignano, between Galatina and Otranto.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Italy features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Where to find the best beaches in Italy

Where to find the best beaches in Italy

From secluded coves to lively seafronts, there are plenty of places to sun worship in Italy. But with an increasing number of hotels charging for access to the …

20 Jul 2017 • Rough Guides Editors insert_drive_file Article
Video: the 1 minute guide to Italy

Video: the 1 minute guide to Italy

Italy has long been one of Europe's most popular destinations. From the magnificent remnants of ancient Rome to the coolest in contemporary culture, secret beac…

08 Jun 2017 • Colt St. George videocam Video
Why Turin should be your next foodie break

Why Turin should be your next foodie break

Not so long ago, Turin (Torino) – Italy’s great northern powerhouse – was largely ignored by tourists, unfairly dismissed as little more than a giant Fiat…

26 May 2017 • Edward Aves insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month