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The Legend of Paciugo and Paciuga

Genoa, a city rich in history and tradition, hides among its streets and alleys a legend full of twists and turns: the complicated story of Paciugo and Paciuga, two figures united by an indissoluble bond, but constantly tested by extraordinary events.

The Legend of Paciugo and Paciuga

The legend has its roots in the 11th century, in an atmosphere steeped in devotion and mystery. Paciugo, a sailor from via Prè, and Paciuga, his devoted bride, always wear elegant 18th century Genoese costumes in the depictions, but their story is set in an even more remote era, enriched with elements of faith and prodigies.

The story begins with the cruel fate that separates the two spouses: Paciugo, during a sea voyage, is taken prisoner by the Turks and spends twelve years in captivity in Algeria. In the meantime, Paciuga, faithful and devout, prayed tirelessly to Our Lady of Coronata to reunite the couple (Coronata is a locality on the heights of the west of Genoa).

Paciuga’s faith, however, did not go unnoticed in the eyes of her neighbours, who began murmuring and spreading malicious rumours about her assiduous presence at the sanctuary. The return of Paciugo, miraculously freed, brings with it a shadow of jealousy and suspicion.

The story unfolds in a crescendo of emotions when Paciugo, deceived by false accusations, accuses his wife of betrayal. A tragic episode unfolds when, in a jealous rage, Paciugo stabs her with a knife and throws her into the sea during a trip to Cornigliano.

However, the miracle takes place at the sanctuary of Coronata. While Paciugo, tormented by remorse, seeks the Virgin Mary’s forgiveness, he finds his wife, safe and sound, praying before the altar. The Virgin listened to Paciugo’s pleas, proving her faithfulness and innocence.

The legend of Paciugo and Paciuga is a tale of jealousy and redemption, enriched with elements of religious devotion and miracles. It combines the story of a couple caught between human cruelty and divine intervention, leaving an indelible mark on Genoese popular culture.

Paciugo and the Genoese

‘Paciugo’ is one of the most commonly used dialect terms to this day, to the point of creating the misunderstanding that only after some time do some people discover that it is not an ‘Italian’ word. Paciugo in Genoa means ‘mess’, both literally and by extension figuratively. The link between this term and the character in the legend is easily guessed, who of pasties and paciughi makes more than one…

But the figure of Paciugo is also linked to a much-loved speciality in the city, one of the most popular aperitifs drunk in Genoa. In fact, the label of Corochinato features Paciugo himself, in his typical historical clothes accompanied by his faithful donkey: and ‘Asinello’ is the other name by which Corochinato is known. This aromatised white wine is an unmissable Genoese gem.

Other typical Genoese Carnival masks

The Genoese and Ligurian Carnival is enriched by a myriad of masks, often now forgotten but imbued with authenticity and tradition. Among the less celebrated but equally fascinating figures emerge Baciccia della Radiccia, Barudda, and Pipìa, tracing their roots between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. These characters, seemingly insignificant but rich in personality, embody the funny, confusing and contradictory side of the festival, mixing gaffes with common sense.

In particular, the pair Barudda and Pipìa, made famous in puppet theatres, represent the combination of wisdom and grumbling, whining and know-it-all. Cicciulin from Savona, Becciancin from Loano and Nuvarin from Cairo Montenotte, other figures not to be forgotten, add colour and variety to local folklore, carefully recovered just over half a century ago.

Prominent among the masks is Captain Spaventa, dating back to the mid-16th century. This ‘miles gloriosus’, wears flamboyant clothes, a feathered hat and wields a broadsword. Through dramatic narratives of adventures and glorious deeds of arms, his nature as a liar, braggart and even coward emerges. His full name, Capitan Spaventa di Valli di Inferna, was immortalised by Francesco Andreani (1548 – 1624), a theatrical actor-author. His tours with ‘Le bravure di Capitan Spaventa’ and the ‘Compagnia dei Gelosi’, to which his wife Isabella belonged, at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries gave lustre to the tradition of this intriguing character in the history of the Genoese Carnival.

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