Photos, videos: Alexander Kisky & Chrstop Siegmann
Additional photos: Elio Cicala

Every year on the 3rd Sunday in May, the Italian town of San Severo transforms itself into a veritable paradise for pyro-enthusiasts. Because of this transformation, many people often refer to San Severo as “the city of fireworks.” After all, what more could someone ask for: the streets are packed wall-to-wall with people, the air is filled with the fragrant aroma of smoke and gunpowder, and the earth continually pulsates to the pounding vibrations of firecrackers barrages.

Fireworks aside, “La Festa del Soccorso” is foremost a religious feast that attracts literally thousands of people. Not only do Italians flock here for this festival, but people from everywhere in the world travel here to attend. This annual celebration itself actually dates back to 1858, and it is dedicated to San Severo’s patron saint “La Madonna del Soccorso” –the Madonna of Help/Aid. Of course, the main attractions during these festivities are the amazing batteria–the loud and powerful displays of ground fireworks!

There are two types of batteria in San Severo: the batteria alla sanseverese (set off mostly during the daytime) and the batteria alla bolognese (or batteria serali, which literally translates to mean “an evening battery”). One important difference, however, is that the reports offered by a batteria alla bolognese are generally much more powerful than the explosions given off by the daytime versions. Also, more aerial and colored effects like mines and shells are fired during the nighttime batteria, whereas during the day–on Sunday and Monday–the batteria alla sanseverese is mostly shot accompanying the procession through the city.

A batteria is actually a coordinated sequence of explosions produced by various types and sizes of firecrackers and other pyrotechnic effects. These are always fired in rapid succession, and timing is critical. The explosive rhythm is realized only by the use of quickmatch and another type of pyrotechnic delay called a spolette. The performance usually starts with a wheel (rotella/girella) or a setpiece of fountains/whistles (crocifisso). A standard batteria in San Severo is most frequently comprised of about 15 small reports (colpetti) and then a louder one (risposta). This pattern is then repeated three times, followed by an even louder explosion (quinta).

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The colpetti give off various individual effects: flash, colored flash, titanium, micro color and/or wave stars. After those effects occur there follows a series of about 10 precisely timed salutes (quinte/panneggi). This slows down the rhythm of the batteria before a new sequence begins. Between these colossal arrangements, various setpieces are sometimes connected to the main fuse. These will either burn along with the sound of the colpetti, or be used on their own as a kind of stop (fermate)–halting the batteria sequence. Obviously, the possibilities are endless! Even more exciting is that almost any type of firework can be used for this: shells, mines, fountains, wheels, smoke items or confetti. Then as a finale, after several strings of quickmatch set off exceptionally large reports simultaneously, the sequence is punctuated by a large salute.

In Italy, especially in the southern part of the country like San Severo, fireworks are most often connected to religious events. Pyrotechnic displays are generally perceived as a sacrifice–a kind of sacred offering to the protective saints of each village. San Severo has an especially unique tradition of expressing devout dedication toward their Madonna. The fujenti manifest that devotion. This large, mostly youth-driven group, cover their heads with hoods and mask themselves with cloths as they run alongside the batteria. What they seek are tangible trophies–proof of their devotion. The more scars and burn holes they collect on their clothing, the more faithful they feel. That is probably why there is such an overwhelming appreciation of fireworks here—artistry, faith and fireworks all go hand in hand.

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Festa del Soccorso 2014 – video log

After arriving at the airport in Bari on Thursday, we drove to our hotel in Lucera. That afternoon we decided to take the car and go to Lesina, where another festa “San Primiano Martire” was being celebrated and a large batteria had been set up by “Padre Pio” company from San Severo. It was our first time to experience a batteria, and it was exhilarating!

The crowd thoroughly enjoyed it, too, and the procession continued through the city even after the show was over. Unfortunately, heavy rain the next day kept us inside our hotel. One batteria was fired that evening, but we missed it because of the bad weather.

On Saturday the weather finally cleared and we decided to take a look at the shooting site befor the evening shows. In Italy, unlike many other countries, it is not a problem to visit the setup area before a fireworks show. Common courtesy, however, dictates that you should ask before you get too close and take pictures. After seeing a small batteria near the city center, we rushed through traffic towards the shooting site just in time for the pyromusical displayed by “Padre Pio” (a variation of their “Jukebox Memories” show they shot together with “PyroEmotions” last year in Adelfia). This was followed by two very good–albeit traditional–nighttime fireworks displays shot by “Luigi Di Matteo” of Naples. (YT-VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGXKxEJeah8) and “Zio Piro di Gianni Vaccalluzzo” from Sicily. (YT-VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfkpTVCx54I ) The evening ended with two batterie alla bolognese from “Pirotecnica Pirodaunia” and “Padre Pio”. (EXCLUSIVE YT-VIDEO:

For many reasons, we felt Sunday would be a big day. We got up early and headed directly to the historic center of the city where the procession and the Palio delle Batterie was about to begin. Because the streets were completely packed with people, we decided to skip this batteria and go directly to the next area to wait for the procession to come to us. There were some excellent shows at Piazza Incoronazione (EXCLUSIVE YT-VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0hLHEibA4E ) and Piazza Castello (YT-VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OxjUCFJ6EU ). Intuition told us that the batteria in Via Sicilia would be a big one, so we went there and and waited for the madness to begin. The show from “Pirotecnica Chiarappa” was awesome!, Just watch the video and you will understand what we experienced! (YT-VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwO6DpXolNE ). Then after the batteria at Porta Lucera (YT-VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnAY7-Qc-q4 ), another event was performed at Via Soccorso (EXCLUSIVE YT-VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0hLHEibA4E ). Afterwards, we returned to our car, but the day wasn’t over yet! We still got to see two pyromusicals and one batteria alla bolognese at Via Mario Carli. “Chiarappa” and “Del Vicario” were very well executed, shot with some great product made in their own respective factories. What followed next was a very powerful–and loud–nighttime batteria from “Pirotecnica Pirolandia”. (YT-VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-ICpJdkDIw )

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On Monday, the Palio delle Batterie continued. After a short night’s sleep, we went directly to the third show of the day at Via Fortore. The company “Padre Pio” had installed a rather large batteria there in front of the Piazza Cavallotti. And it was a good one too! (YT-VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dx7baIjF0m8 ). Next on our list was the show at Porta San Marco. Again, the streets were tightly packed with people, and it began to get rough because I couldn’t get out the way of the fujenti running towards the finale. (YT-VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQ1BDR13xqI ). In spite of the crowd, we managed to work our way to the Piazza Incoronazione where we witnessed the fabulous batteria of “Pirotecnica Del Vicario”. (YT-VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDPKYBdt4eo ). While there, we got covered with confetti as it rained down everywhere on the crowd! The batteria there was amazing, and it proceeded along its route perfectly! The last report was the craziest explosion I’ve ever experienced–even the heat wave given off by it was incredible!

After the last show in the historic center Arc à nev , we drove once more to the first shooting site we visited to view the aerial fireworks.

The visual and musical quality of “Pirotecnica Del Vicario” that night was wonderful!

We felt the finale may have started a little too early, but besides that it was an excellent performance! The last show of the day was a powerful batteria from “Pirotecnica Chiarappa”.

Tuesday was thankfully a little calmer than the previous day, so we had a little time to regroup and revitalize. Watching an entire town go bananas (literally! Search for “La Banana Fujente”) over fireworks is truly a unique experience. Tuesday evening we went back to San Severo to see two batterie alla bolognese at Via Mario Carli, shot by “Pirotecnica Pirodaunia” and “Padre Pio” from San Severo.

Wednesday was our last day. That afternoon we packed our bags and then drove to San Severo to experience one final night of fireworks. We had heard rumors about a very “large scale” batteria being prepared for the final night, but when we arrived at the site and actually saw it, we were astonished! “Pirotecnica Chiarappa” had built a monster of batteria! It must have taken several miles of quickmatch! It is hard to even describe the intensity! Between all the salutes was a large front with single-shots, mines, shells and much more, followed by an insane finale block! It is perhaps best described as a panoramic firework experience! It was truly amazing!

Even more amazing, was that the evening had just begun! What followed was the 12° Palio delle Batterie Serali, a competition between three local companies: “Nuova Arte Pirica” from Torremaggiore

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Then, as if we hadn’t been amazed enough already, “Pirotecnica Pirolandia” showed us (or the 2nd time) what the rute force of an expertly performed batteria really means!

Thoroughly exhausted, having had very little sleep for days, it was then off to the airport to fly home. Once we landed we felt somewhat out of place and had a hard time completely believing what we had just experienced. 6 full days of utterly amazing pyrotechnics in an inspiringly beautiful Italian city. In short, San Severo might just be one of the most enjoyable, adrenaline-inducing firework festivals in the world!

Batteria Padre Pio, Lesina (exclusive):

Night-show Luigi Di Matteo:

Night-show Vaccalluzzo:

Batteria serali Padre Pio (exclusive):

Batteria Piazza Incoronazione 1 (exclusive):

 Batteria Piazza Castello:

Batteria Via Sicilia “Le Vele”:

 Batteria Porta Lucera:

Batteria Via Soccorso (exclusive):

Batteria serali Pirolandia 1:

Batteria Via Fortore:

Batteria Porta San Marco:

Batteria Piazza Incoronazione 2:

 Batteria Arc à nev:

Night-show Del Vicario:

 Grandiosa Batteria serali Chiarappa 1:

Grandiosa Batteria serali Chiarappa 2:

Batteria serali Nuova Arte Pirica:

Batteria serali Del Vicario:

Batteria serali Pirolandia 2: