Top view of a car of the Gigli festival in Nola

On the seventh day, the day before the feast of San Paolino, another tour of the city takes place: first the peasants go with the scythes, following, as if they were their banner, a very large torch in the shape of a column, lit and adorned with ears of corn. This big torch, which a single man can’t carry, waves and is carried by many upright on a cataletto. It is made with the money collected from the peasants and every year it grows, not only is what is turned on going through the city redone; they call it “waxy”. Similarly another torch is made by others, and in this procession each follows his/her own, sending it forward to him. Then comes the Ortolani candle, and then the other candles of the artisans …

(1514 / A. Leone / De Nola patria)


As soon as I entered the city I was struck by a show never seen before. I saw, held up by porters, a very high tower, covered with sparkling gold, silver and red; it was five stories high, high on columns, adorned with friezes, niches, arches and figures, decorated on both sides with colored flags and covered with gilded paper and red and colorful blankets. The columns sparkled in their red metal; the niches with a gold background, decorated with the strangest arabesques, figures, geniuses, angels, saints and knights dressed in brightly colored costumes. Placed in superimposed floors they had cornucopias, bunches of flowers, wreaths or flags in their hands. It was a stirring, a continuous waving, as the tower swayed here and there on the shoulders of about thirty porters. In the lower floor sat girls crowned with flowers, in the center a chorus of musicians with trumpets, timpani, triangles and cornets performed deafening music…

(1853 / F. Gregorovius / Passeggiate in Campania e in Puglia)



Metamorphosis / Giglio del Bettoliere / Festa dei Gigli / Nola / edition 2009



In the third academic year of the Faculty of Architecture of the Federico II of Naples, in one of those usual lecture presentation of the didactic programs, I was listening to Prof. Arch. Michele Capobianco, professor of what was still in those years Architectural Composition, starting the discussion with … if you plan to graduate in 5 years, then you have not understood anything about the profession of Architect … then it was immediately clear to me that it was the Mentor he did for me.

Obviously over time, growing and maturing, I did not remain faithful to that first sensation of mine and I explored new paths led by new Masters, but that initial assumption remained engraved inside me, so much so that I never missed an opportunity to extend the time of the exams sessions always putting myself at the try with themes and challenges that many avoided.

Ten years, ten long years my academic career lasted until I graduated, but not just for saying, they have been years full of studies and experiments that have profoundly marked me and, obviously, have helped becoming what I am, a survivor.

I am a survivor because the roads I loved to travel were different from those that others practiced and the goals that I have reached almost always have placed me outside the schemes considered normal by the others.

I am a survivor because, while the figure of the architect was parceled out, while the tools and methodologies changed with a speed incomprehensible to me, I remained closed, a happy prisoner but a prisoner, in my romantic idea of ​​the Humanist Architect, of the educated professional to face any problem, at any scale, faithful defender of the concept from the spoon to the city so dear to Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, known to the general public with the stage name of Le Corbusier.

And it is with this attitude, mental and character, that I fell into the project of the dressing of the “Giglio” (Lily) of the guild of Bettoliere, or the conception and realization of all the scenographic apparatus that usually covers and hides the wooden machine, applying and adapting to this unusual task all that he did and makes me an Architect, a survivor of all the revolutions and / or involutions that have profoundly changed this profession and that I continue to exercise, in my own way, with stubborn passion.

I am aware of this, happily resigned, I was, I am and will remain a survivor of Architecture.

Black and white symbol of the Hermetic Diagram

Study and Redesign of the Hermetic Diagram elaborated by Giordano Bruno



To be able to tell this project I have to provide a minimum of information on the “Festa dei Gigli” (Lily’s festival) and on the city that hosts it, a quick fresco, also in order to intrigue and entice, the reader, to deepen the knowledge of this event, and of the place where takes place, with research and references on more exhaustive and specific sites and texts.

If I had to synthesize in an image, if I used a metaphor to describe my city, I would say that Nola is a Theater City.

It has always been so, as all the places where history is made and lived every day.

Since its foundation, which historians date before the one of Rome and which probably – my unproven belief – was a re-foundation, reborn as Nuvla, new city, on the ashes of an even older center, Hirya, of which it assumes and makes its own domain and territory.

All have passed through here, Ausoni, Opici, Osci, Etruscans, Greeks and Samnites, some more and some less, have infused their culture in this city and in turn have been kidnapped.

The Romans conquered it several times and made it their Campania Felix, home of patricians and retired legionaries, and here the Ottavi family chose to build a residence far from the capital and its power games, the house where Ottaviano Augusto, the first emperor, in the same room where his father died, recited his last words Acta est fabula. Plaudite!

Here the French Ponzio Anicio Meropio Paolino, patrician of Bordeaux, son of the prefect of Aquitaine, senator and consul of the Roman Empire and designated governor of Campania, fascinated by the figure of Felix and his miracles, a saint known and venerated in all cities where new Christian communities flourished, decided to live his conversion.

Here he developed and put into practice, in addition to his talents as a writer and poet, those of Architect, contributing, with his works created around the burial place of the Holy Bishop Proto Martyr Felice, the Paleochristian Basilicas of Cimitile, to the realization of a protocol formal and functional due to the innovative typologies that will then be adopted, in the centuries to come, for the construction of revolutionary architectures suitable for the new cult throughout the Catholic world, including the adoption of the architectural element of the bell tower and the innovative use of bells, structure suitable for visibility in the territory the first, means of communication with the Christian people the second, genesis credited by the etymology of the words bell tower and bell which present, in the Latin language, the same semantic root, root that links them to the name of Campania city, from which the aphorism, which in the high school literally drove me crazy, Nolani Nolae nolas nolare nolunt, or, the Nolans do not want to play the bells of Nola.

With the crumbling of the Roman Empire, this territory was the scene of continuous changes of power and lived the following centuries under the dominion of the various Goths, Byzantines, Lombards, Normans, Swabians and finally the Angevins first and then the Aragonese.

In the 16th century, under the rule of the Orsini and with the birth of the Contea Nolana, the city experienced its Renaissance, rich and prosperous, a small Florence, a most unique and rare episode, in a territory, the Vesuvius, devastated and impoverished, assuming the aspect that still characterizes it today, stratifying on the north-east quadrant of the ancient Roman city and adapting and reusing the ancient testimonies bringing them to new life.

It is in this period that the documents begin to describe the feast that is celebrated every year in memory of Paolino, binding to the story that Pope St. Gregory the Great reports in the 3rd book of his Dialogues, of the personal sacrifice of the saint, the gift of himself in exchange for the life of the only son of a poor widow, and of his return to his homeland with his fellow citizens, and how the Nolans who remained at home, divided into corporations, welcomed him joyfully with flowers and candles on his arrival by boat.

And here I should open a new chapter, since my city is divided from the sea by the Somma / Vesuvius volcanic building, so someone might ask how the Nolans did, on foot, with a whole party set up and carried on the shoulder, to welcome their hero while he landed with their fellow citizens safe from imprisonment, but let this mystery remain so and we keep the image of Paolino arriving on a boat full of Nolans because this will become, over time, a true icon of the party .

I leave just a note for any research for the most curious, a trace of a mystery that is lost in the darkness of past centuries.

It is a common use among the Nolans, the use of the term si ricorda ‘o mare a Nola (you remember the sea in Nola) to signal a thing or an episode very, very, very old, as if the memory of this presence had remained in the collective memory, this relationship with water, which no geographer, geologist or historian could ever endorse.

I like to imagine, but we are and remain in the world of fantasy, that the Romans, masters in engineering in general and, specifically, hydraulics, had created a river port south of the city for commercial purposes and logistical support to the legions located in the area for the control of the territory, in addition to regimenting and channeling towards the Sarno river, about fifteen kilometers south-east of the city, the waters that descended copiously from Vesuvius and the mountains that surround it, in order to reclaim all the Nolan plain, which has always been subject to recurrent and disastrous floods, a problem still present in the seventeenth century and which the Bourbons solved with the realization of the vast drainage system known as the Regi Lagni, still operating and operating today.

Returning to the story of the imprisonment and liberation of Paolino, today we know that it was common practice, in those years, not to go against local customs, to absorb rituals and customs by transporting them and adapting them to the new emerging religious vision and the different social models that this entailed , and ours is a clear example of how the Catholic world rereads and renews mystical experiences related to the cult of the earth, moon and sun, cults that had regulated the life of the communities of these places even before the introduction of the pantheon of Gods Romans, superimposing new stories and new heroes on the old ancestral myths.

In the following centuries the city will consolidate its image as a pilot center of an entire area that will eventually identify with it, see the birth and the works of numerous scholars and writers who will give it luster, but on all of them emerges, in my opinion, the figure of Giordano Bruno, who for these streets and squares, the same ones that I still walk today, walked and started to shape his philosophy, that vision of life and the universe that led him to emerge as a giant in a European cultural landscape that had just begun to get the feeling of the enormous and profound revolutions that history was maturing, and that led him to be condemned to the stake, as a heretic, in Campo dei Fiori in Rome, at dawn on February 17 of 1600.

And as the centuries passed, while its most illustrious sons made themselves known throughout the known world, leaving traces and memory of themselves and this city, in every period of the history of this country, up to the social and territorial upheaval caused by the two Great Wars, the party evolved, canonized its elements and related itself to the city in an indivisible dualism.

While in the first centuries the urban dimensions conditioned and dictated rules to the transformation and growth of the candles which, ever larger, the guilds carried in procession through the city, with tool “machine”, it became the ruler and planner of the development of the ancient center, limiting the transformations and the dimensions of the buildings, favoring the places that hosted the processional path and encouraging the birth of small squares, real urban courtyards, and the massive adoption of the balcony as a privileged typology for the views on the facades of buildings, useful to favor the vision of the event staged on the city streets.

Squares and balconies, urban courtyards and narrow streets, the whole city transformed into a theater where actors and figurants stage, every year, the same script but that, each year, becomes different and new.

The magic of this festival is all here, it is all enclosed in this secret, to be always new while always remaining the same.


Planimetric map of the historic center

study of the theater spaces of the party event and of the relationship with the building fabric of the historic center of the city of Nola



The main actors of this immense pièce de théâtre that transforms Nola into a city inhabited by Giants and heroes are eight lilies, each representing a guild of workers, the same eight corporations already present at the time of the Orsini: Ortolani, Salumieri, Bettolieri , Bakers, Beccai, Calzolai, Fabbri and Sarti.

In the middle, dividing them into two groups of four, the Barca (boat), literally sailing on a sea of ​​people, symbol and icon of the story of the imprisonment and the victorious return of the Saint / Hero, almost always present on it with an image of him realized in papier-mache together with a figurant disguised as a Turkish, armed with a scimitar, who accompanies the former prisoner and his fellow citizens to the house.

These giants move through the streets and squares of the city on the shoulders of as many trawlers, each consisting of just over a hundred men, the cradlers, in no time in the morning, until they reach the main square, where they will be greeted by everything a people in celebration, in a setting that seems to have been created especially for the event, with the Town Hall on one side and the great Cathedral on the other, opposed, secular power and religious power, to revive the eternal philosophical dualism of the good and of evil, to then transform, in the afternoon, crossing the city all night, until the dawn of the next day, in a religious procession strictly regulated by a protocol canonized for centuries, with an order and on an immutable path, this after having been blessed by the Bishop, thus transforming himself into party machines into sacred gifts to be offered to the patron Paolino.

Over the centuries the machine has undergone various transformations, as documents and stories testify, up to the present day with two well-defined and distinct structural types, one older, the four-sided Giglio, the other daughter of a technical evolution formal occurred at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a period of great social and technological revolutions, the Giglio with a central face.

These two types, including the boat, have in common the base and the first piece, two large parallelepipeds, larger than the first and smaller than the second, which overlap and interlock to form the base part that gives balance and stability to the whole structure.

The boat is completed by setting up a wooden and papier-mâché vessel on the top of this element.

The four-faced Giglio, product of an ancient and consolidated technique that takes, with both hands, knowledge and construction methods from the carpentry in use in the building to the construction of scaffolding and supporting structures, is completed with the overlapping of five other parallelepipeds with dimensions that go, gradually, to climb up to reach an average height that touches the twenty-five meters from the ground.

A machine that still retains its timeless beauty, solid but rigid, which makes it less spectacular than the second, because while it enhances the power of the men who transport it, its structure, thus blocked, does not allow those reflections sinuous and advancing, lashing the air with movements similar to whiplashes, which the second and more modern structure allows.

The One-Face Giglio is a veritable technological evolutionary leap that is still being studied and discussed in an attempt to find a creator father.

Overcoming the position of some scholars who want to see in the figure of an old craftsman, expert in the construction of these machines, the father of this innovation, I have gained the conviction that it is in any case the result of an entire historical period, a period that sees Nola great social transformations and complex architectural and urban developments that will be fertile ground for the umpteenth and last mutation among many that this festival has lived on its own skin in past centuries.

The nineteenth century sees the city at the forefront of the great fresco of the Italian Risorgimento contributing, with men and ideas, to the birth of the new Nation, even if in the same year of the unity of Italy we witness a bitter episode of destruction that sees the old Gothic Cathedral, which the Orsini family had renovated and donated to the city during the flourishing Nola renaissance, going completely lost due to a culpable fire set in, as the story tells, from an anarchist cell in the city.

With the technological revolution, the textile, hemp processing and glass production industries arrive in Nola as well as the creation of a complex, varied and flourishing agri-food supply chain, and with the arrival of the first industries the city is equipped with two railway lines , in order to connect it to the large trade flows related to the transport of goods.

Whole pieces of the ancient city are redesigned, unfortunately we almost completely lose the seventeenth-century walls and the medieval citadel, the Arce, located on the southern border, right in front of Mount Vesuvius, for the first episodes of building speculation, presented as redevelopment works and improvement of sanitary and hygienic conditions, all this while the heart of the historic center becomes an open-air construction site with the reconstruction works of the new cathedral and the demolition of the space in front for the construction of the new municipal house and the large square.

To support the local technicians, the architect Nicola Breglia is called to Nola, author, among the many designed works, of the Principe di Napoli Gallery built between the Academy of Fine Arts and the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.

Breglia brings with him his nineteenth-century architect culture and the technical and technological innovations that it has studied and already put into practice, proposing and creating the new roof of the Cathedral using the innovative Polonceau model for the new trusses.

Entire teams of experts in the construction sector arrive in the city, from neighboring countries and from faraway cities, they would work for decades with excellent masters of stone working, skilled stucco and plaster builders and profound connoisseurs of the art of painting.

They arrive in the city, bringing with them an entire centuries-old tradition, the historic papier-mâché shops from the beautiful Lecce, would work above all to complete the interiors of the new Mother Church, but their art will be studied, assimilated and reproduced by local workers who will not be late to graft it into the party, replacing, over time, the most ancient custom of setting up the machines with fabrics, flowers, straw and wheat weaves and living figures, with the creation and application of papier-mâché decorative elements on the naked faces of the Gigli.

This is the general picture, this is the fertile ground that makes the birth of the new structural typology possible, and whether it was a single man or a whole shop expert in the construction of the Lilies to realize the prototype does not matter, this machine is the daughter of a a generation that has breathed history, has made it its own and fixed it, forever, in this new structure that will thus become the faithful mirror, proof and testimony of a wonderful century.

The great innovation is all in the new element introduced in the structure called “borda”.

A composite rod, made by assembling various elements with an increasingly thin section as you go upwards, as long as the lily, positioned at the center of the base element and adjusted with a small angle that makes it tilt towards the front rear.

Of the five elements that are added to the block composed of the base and the first piece, only the structure of the front forehead will be preserved, destined then to be covered with the decorative elements in wood and papier mache.

On the sides and above all on the rear front, three linear elements will be made, three long ribs fixed to the first level and to the terminal top of the central edge.

The whole structure is completed by a series of perimeter and transverse currents that connect these ribs, the front and the edges, drawing, in the horizontal sections of the various levels, an irregular pentagonal shape that is scaling in size with varying ‘height, obtaining at the end a very elongated pyramidal structure with an irregular polygonal plan. Various elements of stiffening of the cross type of S. Andrea, both on the vertical and on the horizontal plane, will make the structure rigid and flexible at the same time.

From the static point of view, this complex evolution has transformed a box-like structure with the forces and stresses that move and balance each other on the four perimeter faces until they discharge their action to the ground through the four feet of the base, to a new structure that directs and unloads the same forces and the same stresses towards and on the central edge that will transfer them to the large base which it is connected to and then to the ground.

A structure about twenty-five meters high, with an average weight of twenty-five quintals, to which another twenty-five of the decorative elements applied on the front front are added and which are balanced by applying the right inclination to the edge towards the rear front to better distribute all this mass on the shoulders of the men who carry it, in the most balanced way possible.

From a bell tower structure, hollow, to a pyramidal shape, with central axis, which lowers the center of gravity of the machine to about one third of its height from the ground, making it leaner, lighter, more flexible and more stable.

A true miracle of human ingenuity applied to the construction technique.

relief of the machine to a face with a central edge

Study of the main elevation, side elevation and horizontal sections at the various levels of the wooden structure



The project takes the occasion of the centenary celebrations of the transfer of the relics of St. Paolino, an anniversary that was celebrated in 2009, to highlight his Christmas carmies, recognizing in them the true spiritual, moral and poetic heritage of the Saint, and finding again in his words the strength, the enchantment, which he has produced, and still produces today, a work of conversion and transformation in the minds of those who approach it.

A process of profound change, a real Metamorphosis, not only of form but above all of feelings, attitudes and / or actions.

This process comes to life when the lily catalyzes on itself the sacred expectations of an entire city, transforming itself from a simple wooden car into something different, something noble, sacred, becoming a symbol of the faith of an entire city for its Patron , pact of gratitude, between a people and its Saint, replicated to infinity.

This awareness, in the representation of the Bettoliere 2009, crosses different levels of interpretation, stimulating the observer to move on a multiple path of knowledge to reach full understanding of the work.

The different levels prove to be stages of knowledge of an initiatory journey that the subject-observer travels as he enters the deeper meanings of the Lily.

The sailing ship that brings the Saint back to his homeland is the first image that the lily arouses, a sailing ship that sails on a reassuring sea of ​​flowers, to remember the figure of a gardener that the legend assigns to Paolino during his imprisonment.

The large civic emblem on the bow of this fantastic sailing ship, protected by the images of San Paolino and San Felice, the two Patron Saints, identifies it with the City of Nola.

To a more careful view, then, it will be noticed that the sails of the vessel are, in reality, parchments that cross the wooden structure of the machine and that show transcribed a selection taken from the Christmas Carmi, poems that Paolino composed, one for each year of his stay in Nola, to celebrate the day of the martyrdom of San Felice.

These writings form a vertical plane that intersects the lily along its entire height, a real metaphysical plane that, thanks to the power of the Saint’s words, makes it possible to move to a sacred dimension of the wooden machine, underlined by the transformation of the raw wood of fir in a nobler cherry, smoothed and worked, which redesigns the entire vertical face of the main lily front.

Vertical facing that is revisited with the introduction of a series of architectural elements that transform the lily into a slender and symbolic bell tower in memory of the innovative use that Pauline made of it, with the use of bells.

Furthermore, the arrangement of these panels, some open towards the front, others towards the back, form a numerical sequence which, from bottom to top, show the following numbers and meanings:

2 / dualism, high and low, life and death, man and woman

3 / the perfect number, the Holy Trinity

1 / the unity, the principle, the absolute, God

At the top there is a sphere, a perfect geometric shape, symbolizing the universe, the reality in which man lives and works.

The last metamorphosis the “Machine” lives on itself, no longer elaborate constructions in Baroque and / or Renaissance style that hide it, but showing itself naked, beautiful and perfect, a true masterpiece of human ingenuity, putting itself in the foreground and delivering itself so to the eyes of those who observe it to be, at least once, recognized and appreciated as the true added value of this Festival, the true work that makes it so precious, the real offer that, every year, an entire city offers to its Saint Patron.

Map showing the front view of Nola's machines

Study of the main prospect and evaluation of the metric ratio of the machine and historic buildings



The decision not to use papier-mâché, an art that I love and appreciate, for the realization of the clothing project, came from the desire to highlight and give due weight to the value of the wooden machine with a pyramidal structure, the one-sided type with central edge.

To do this, I considered it a functional leap into the past of the festival, when these giants were prepared for the procession, decorating them, as we have seen, with flowers, straw and wheat braids and precious fabrics, thus choosing to use, to memory of this tradition, of the panels made with linen cloth framed in fir wood frames.

On these panels the words chosen by Paolino‘s Christmas poems are used and become a graphic game that embellishes, beyond meaning, and decorates the fabric left unfinished.

A system of wrought iron connections, designed specifically for the occasion and made in the workshop, plus a series of long steel strands, connect these panels to the central edge, like sails connected to the mast of a sailing ship, allowing the placement of the same inside the wooden structure of the Lily, thus freeing the front face, leaving it visible to the view of the observers and highlighting it thanks to the screen that form and divides it from the rest of the machine.

This choice also involved the unloading of the weight directly on the edge, making it necessary to zero the angle on the vertical plane of the same because it is no longer functional to balance the weights on the shoulders of the cradles.

Another result obtained with this choice was the possibility of having a game of movement of the panels, an effect obtained both from the breath of the winds, and from the oscillations that the parancers cause to the machine during transport, introducing an element of dynamism that made the structure of the clothing an object that is no longer static but constantly changing.

The same base of the garment, which is usually limited to a wooden and papier-mâché paneling that recalls the theme later developed on the Giglio, resting on the ground in front of the base element in order to hide it from the viewer, is here integrated into the structure of the project.

This is made with two large wooden arches, whose geometry is drawn on the circumference having the center coinciding with the geometric center of the machine, suspended with a play of steel bars and tie rods on the heads of the four corner units of the base, the feet, embellished with four small iron pyramids that act as a link and support, transmitting all the weight of the structure to the ground.

The two large arches are connected together by six large panels of linen, three in front and three behind the lily, which assume by simple gravity the same curvature of the suspended side structures, thus drawing the hull of a magical vessel, suspended on a sea of colorful flowers, among which the Lily too, at the center of this scenic installation, is the largest and most beautiful flower.

The machine is completed and embellished with small interventions put in place directly on the front left uncovered, decorative grafts made of fir wood that integrate with the structure and highlight the interlocking points of the various pieces thanks to the reproduction of recurring architectural elements in the historical building of our city.

The change in state of the material, from raw wood to polished and painted elements, underlines the transformation that has taken place, the change of state, the different symbolic and functional nature of the two parts, the back and the front, in which this fantastic vertical plane , metaphysical, which the panels create thanks to the words of Paolino, divide the Giglio.

Map of the side view of Nola's machines

Study of the side view and analysis of the horizontal sections at the different levels of the machine



Today the Gigli di Nola, together with the Machine of Santa Rosa of Viterbo, the Candelieri of Sassari and the Varia di Palmi, form the network of the great Italian shoulder machines, recognized World Heritage Site in the eighth session of the UNESCO intergovernmental Committee, in Baku / Azerbaijan, 2-8 / 12/2013.

This recognition gives credit to these four cities for having preserved and protected, to the best of their ability, a unique cultural heritage in the world.

But for me, the Gigli are not just this.

For those born in a city like mine, where time and space is perpetually and obsessively marked by a celebration, a feast that becomes the center and boundary of everything, where civil society, administrative power and religious power continually meet and they are confronted with it, it is found at the end part, not always conscious, of a larger mechanism, in which a role is played that often others have chosen for you.

On the other hand, a heritage like this is still all to be read and discovered, and it is this belief that inspired me and that I tried to develop with the Metamorfosi project, trying to give a different reading, and therefore new, by introducing an element of curiosity and awareness in the eyes of the beholder.

The aim and synthesis of this project was to highlight the technological beauty of a wooden structure that goes beyond the boundaries of scenographic machines to enter, fully, into the world of Fantastic Machines, a pre-industrial product that deservedly falls into the category of Urban Architecture, because the Gigli, even if they are not Architectures in the full sense of the term, because they do not contain a space, do not create a circumscribed environment, alter the perception of the urban space in which they move, change their size and geometry, transform the city in a Fantastic World inhabited by Giants and Heroes.

And I live there, every day, in this Fantastic World, and I meet Giants and Heroes every day.

Map of the zenith view of Nola's machines

Planimetric study of the machine’s relationship with the floral installation that houses it



METAMORFOSI is among the projects selected for the event


13-15 June 2019 / Archaeological Park of Selinunte

From June 28 to the end of September 2019 this traveling exhibition was hosted in the exhibition spaces of the BIENNIAL OF CITY ARCHITECTURE / CULTURAL FARM FAVARA