Messina: fascination and legends of the Passeggiata dei giganti

Passeggiata dei giganti Messina


Even other cities in Sicily and in Calabria have the same tradition. The protagonists are Mata and Grifone, two tall papier-mâché statues carried along the streets of the city on the Straits to the rhythm of the drums. This is the Passeggiata dei giganti (literally, “the walk of the giants”) in Messina.


The origin

About the origin of Mata and Grifone, there are two different version: the legend and the history.

  • The legend. In late Tenth century, Hassam-Ibn-Hammar, a giant Moor, landed at Messina with his pirates. During his raids, the Moor felt in love with beautiful Marta (“Mata”), daughter of Cosimo II di Castellaccio, and desired to marry her. After the woman’s parents rejected him for the umpteenth time, Hassam-Ibn-Hammar kidnapped the woman. But Mata gave him her love only when the Moor converted to Christianity, changed its name in Grifone and became only a farmer. Mata and Grifone married and founded the city of Messina.
  • The history. Richard I of England, known as Richard the Lionheart, was in Sicily in late Thirteen century. The Greek population was very powerful and vexed the people of Messina. Richard I fought them. To fortify the city of Messina, Richard I of England built an imposing fortress called Matagrifone.


Mata and Grifone

The two tall papier-mâché statues represent a white woman, Mata, and a black/Moor warrior, Grifone. During the Passeggiata dei giganti, from August 10th to 14th, the two statues are carried along the street of Messina, accompanied by an historical parade, to the rhythm of drums, trumpets, “brogne” (wind instruments made from shells) and “ciaramedde” (a sort of zampogna).


The Vara

The Passeggiata dei giganti is connected to another traditional events of Messina: la Vara. On August 14th, in the evening, the procession of la Vara (a big votive machine, which is 13 meters tall and 8 tons of weight, and represents the Madonna and The Redeemer surrounded by the Angels) begins.


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