For people like me with a passion for traditional cultures, Abruzzo and Molise are among Italy’s most interesting regions. These rural communities—cut off from the rest of the Italian peninsula by formidable mountains—remain a secret for most international visitors. Travelers intrepid enough to veer off the beaten path are rewarded with a rich tapestry of traditional Italian crafts: lace, wrought iron, gold, ceramics, and most surprising of all—bagpipes.
Scapoli CC (c) Fatboo via Flickr
It’s not what you’d expect to find in Italy, but some argue that the zampogna made in Scapoli—a mountain village of rural Molise–is the ancient ancestor of the Scottish instrument, allegedly introduced to Scotland by Roman soldiers. Centuries ago, bagpipes filled the air across Italy with their eerie, solemn cries, but today, Scapoli is one of the only towns in the country that preserves this ancient tradition.
CC (c) Lucio Musacchio via Flickr
No one knows when locals began making these strange instruments, but their origins surely reach back into antiquity. Just a half-century ago, nearly 20,000 sheep grazed the mountain grasslands outside of Scapoli, providing skins for making bagpipes. They formed a quiet audience for the shepherd who heard his own haunting melodies repeated back to him as echoes off the mountain walls. Today, few herds dot the verdant hillsides, and the zampogna is played mostly at festival times.
The Scapoli bagpipe is a type known as a double-chanter, with two sets of finger holes for producing its distinctive sounds. The instrument is a complicated contraption made of sheepskin bags, pipes of cherry or olive wood, and reeds made of cane. A handful of artisans residing in the Fontecostanza section of Scapoli preserve and pass on the ancient tradition and techniques for making these instruments.
Festival Internazionale della Zampogna
Three days in late July transform the normally quiet town of Scapoli into a noisy cacophony of sound with an international bagpipe festival. The eerie sounds of the zampognari playing these wind instruments–combining wood, sheepskin, and metal—fill the air, and demonstrations of artisanal techniques provide a unique look at this ancient craft. Local culinary specialties, like goat’s cheese and black olives, complete the event.
Museo della Zampogna
Vico Santa Maria, 1
86070 Scapoli (IS)
At other times of the year, start your visit at the Museo della Zampogna in Scapoli to learn more about this ancient instrument. If you want to take one home, prices for Scapoli bagpipes run between 200 and 1000 Euro, depending on how they are outfitted, what types of wood are utilized, and their decoration.
Have you discovered bagpipes during your travels? Drop a comment below. I love to hear your stories!