A small Barcelona in Italy

By Donatella Polizzi

Barcellonetta,  an Italian term meaning small and pretty Barcelona, is the nickname for the city of Alghero, on the Northern coast of Sardinia dating back to the 1372 conquest of the city by Catalans.  In this pearl  on the Coral Riviera, street names are still written in both Catalan and Italian and there is even a Catalan TV. That ancient domination has shaped the city architecture and has strongly influenced also music, songs, and religious traditions: the Setmana Santa de l’Alguer, Easter rites, and the Cant de la Sibil.la, a Christmas tradition. In Alghero, many buildings are in Catalan-gothic  architecture which spread thanks to the religious constructions, like the Church of Saint Francis and the Holy Mary Cathedral.  Unlike other architectural styles, in Alghero, the Catalan-gothic  style lasted over many centuries.  The characteristics of the Catalan-gothic style are the verticality of buildings, the fragmentations of walls, the lancet arch, the flying buttress  arch, and buttresses. Vertical accents enrich the building exterior: statues, portals, windows and rose windows, spires and friezes all contribute to the appeal of the structure. 

Trenino Catalano

The Catalan influence on religious buildings brings us straight to the Catalan influence on chants and music. Most famous is the Cant de la Sibil.la, the Song of the Sybil or Senyal del Judici, a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. This song is a liturgical drama and a Gregorian chant, the lyrics of which compose a prophecy describing the Apocalypse and announces the return of Jesus Christ, King, Judge and Savior. In Alghero it is sung in Catalan during the Missa del Gallin the Christmas night. The language of this chant by an unknown author changed over time: first in Greek, then translated into Latin, and in Provencal or Oc language, which is almost identical to Catalan, so it was a short step to its final versions . A strong  Catalan imprint regards the Holy Week rites, which involve local and Catalan confraternities and believers who flock from Catalunya to Alghero. Celebrations start on Holy Tuesday with the Procession of Mysteries with six statues representing the five sorrowful mysteries and the Sorrowful Mother. On  Holy Thursday,  the Las Cerquesprocession carries  a small statue of the Mother of the Seven looking for her son and, later, the Arboramento procession takes the Crucifix Lo Sant Crist de la Misericordia, Holy Christ of Mercy,  a seventeenth century wood sculpture,  to the Cathedral where it is left .  


On Holy Friday the “fugi-fugi” Mass is celebrated followed by the schiodamento , removal of nails: a procession carries the tools and two ladders which two of the  four barons  will use to depose Jesus Christ into the bressol, a  gold covered  coffin then taken through the streets where all the lights are covered by red clothes. On Easter Sunday, the statues of Resurrected Christ and the Glorious Holy Mother  return to the Church of Mercy where the Holy Mass is celebrated in Catalan and blessed bread is distributed. A panoramic of the Catalan influence in Alghero would not be complete without  a few words about food. After all, we are what we eat, and in Alghero they eat Catalan style.  First thing one notices when looking a Sardinian cookbook is that among local dishes is included Crema Catalana, Catalan cream, a dessert whose name speaks for  itself. Although the world considers it a typical Spanish dessert, it is so deeply part of the local culture that Alghero people view it as a local dish.  The Catalan influence in the Alghero cuisine is not limited to a dessert but touches above all the fish entrees displaying the word Catalan in their name like Catalan lobster, Catalan muscles, Catalan octopus, and Catalan angler fish.

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