Palermo’s Unique, Centuries-Old Puppet Tradition Enters a New Era

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This piece from Atlas Obscura checks in on Palermo’s Puppeteers, and how the pandemic has altered century-old traditions.

Palermo had dozens of puppet theaters before 1950, when interest began to decline. Today, there are only three left, each employing the handmade marionettes—three feet tall and weighing 20 pounds—unique to the city’s puppetry tradition. While puppetry inspired by regional epics crops up across cultures, from ancient India’s Ramayana and Mahabharata to Japan’s Tales of the Heike, “only Sicilian Opera dei Pupi stages epic stories with intricately structured and painted wooden puppets, in elaborate metal armor with swords and shields made to withstand heavy fighting,” says Columbia University professor Jo Ann Cavallo. She has studied Opera dei Pupi extensively as part of her research on Renaissance literature and how it is dramatized around Southern Europe.

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