My other car’s a Fiat Punto

What do Sicilians drive when they’re not driving their Fiat Puntos?

This.

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It’s called a Carro Siciliano (Sicilian carriage) and dates back to… oh, goodness knows how long ago. Each successive invading culture added some extra detail and decoration to it: at a glance you can easily estimate how many times Sicily has been invaded!

When my husband was a kid they were still widely used to sell fruit and veg in the street – it’s only in the last 20 years or so that they have been replaced with motorised ape vans. In the Palermo area, some owners of these vans paint them in the traditional way; a yellow background, covered with all the beautiful pictures of the medieval knights from the legends of Orlando and the knights of Charlemagne, and some religious images included.

Nowadays these carriages are only used in processsions, and the town and village festivals that celebrate the local patron saint. Among a very small group of afficionados in Palermo, they are still used for racing. Yes, racing!

There are about three highly skilled craftsmen in Palermo who know how to make them, and continue crafting these works of art. When they pass away, they will truly become museum pieces and be made no more.

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12 thoughts on “My other car’s a Fiat Punto

    1. I know! I wonder how long it would take to make and decorate just one? And I often wonder how someone who lived by selling veg in the street could even afford one. I am glad the ones which still exist are treasured and preserved, but it is so sad that before long, none will ever be made again.

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  1. Hi hit “Follow” before I even finished reading this post. I love your simple introduction along the side bar, and as a person who is ever-curious about life and culture in other countries, your blog has my attention. Looking forward to reading more!

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  2. Renato Guttuso observed that the Sicilian cart is the epitome of the creativity, pride and vitality of the Sicilian people. And we’d all agree that there is hardly anything more universally recognized as Sicilian as these wonderful carts and the horse livery, well just astounding!!! Truly, the epic poetry of the common people. There was a time that I didn’t want to settle for the usual miniature balsam wood replica and coveted the real thing. So in 1972 I manage to acquire a few piecemeal pieces of the real thing in a Palermitan marionette theater and bring them home. The carved and painted key (chiave) of Roland and a Saracen duking it out with swords boarded Alitalia as a carry-on and now hangs over an interior door. Two small painted wood panels depicting some chivalrous deed as well as two other pieces of unknown function (perhaps sections of corner posts) traveled home in my suitcase and are displayed in a curio cabinet. Anyway, my other goal at the time was to buy a whole cart for an Italian-American organization and ship it to the US. Somewhere else in Palermo ,maybe a flea market, I found a suitable specimen for @3,000 USDs including delivery. It was a lot of money then as it is now and not exactly within budget, So when I learned that the cart would probably languish in US Customs for months if not years while probed and dissected in search of contraband, I quickly abandoned the idea. Since then every once in a while I see a carretto here and can’t help but wonder what story it might tell of its journey out of Sicily. Again, thanks for the memory.

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    1. Wow, thank you for your lovely anecdote!
      I bet they go for a lot more than 3,000 USD these days. But how great that you managed to get some pieces home to decorate your house! I wish I could lay my hands on a few of those lovely painted panels too, but I have literally never seen a single one for sale. I suspect you may have a few truly rare collectors’ pieces on your hands.

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