The Mysterious Badalisc: A Whimsical Tradition in Italy’s Val Camonica

Deep within the enchanting Val Camonica region of Italy, amidst the southern central Alps, resides a mythical creature that has captured the hearts and curiosity of the locals for generations—the Badalisc. With its distinctive appearance of a large head adorned with a goat skin, small horns, an imposing mouth, and glowing eyes, this creature has become an emblem of folklore in the area. 


Legend has it that the mischievous Badalisc dwells within the woods near the village of Andrista, located within the commune of Cevo. Every year, during the period of Epiphany on January 5th and 6th, the creature is captured and paraded into the village, accompanied by musicians and masked characters.

Among the participants are “il giovane” (the young man), “il vecchio” (the old man), “la vecchia” (the old woman), and the young signorina, who acts as bait to arouse the creature’s desires. The procession also includes drum-beating witches, bearded shepherds, and a hunchback known as “un torvo gobetto,” engaging in a rustic duel with the Badalisc. While traditionally only men partake in the festivities, some are dressed as women, paying homage to the customs of old.

In the village square, or in a former stable, the Badalisc’s speech, known as “la ‘ntifunada,” takes place. As the mythological creature itself cannot speak, an “interpreter” reads the speech aloud. Originally improvised, the speech is now written in advance and delivered in rhymed verses. It uncovers supposed sins and intrigues within the community, exposing the gossip and secrets held by the mythical creature. Throughout the speech, the hunchback punctuates the reading by rhythmically striking his stick.

Following the speech, the atmosphere transforms into one of merriment and celebration. The villagers engage in joyful singing, dancing, and feasting, embracing the vibrant energy that fills the air. As night falls, the community comes together to savor the “Badalisc polenta,” a culinary delight that has become an integral part of the tradition.

In recent years, a commercial version of this traditional dish has been introduced, preserving the cultural heritage associated with the creature. In the past, children from the village would go door-to-door during the Badalisc celebrations, gathering cornmeal from households to prepare the polenta. A specially crafted Badalisc salami would also be made for the occasion, adding to the festivities and providing a unique treat for the young ones.

On the second day, as the exhibition draws to a close, the Badalisc is set free, allowed to return to its woodland abode. With its temporary presence in the village concluded, the creature leaves behind a sense of wonder and intrigue, a lasting memory of the age-old tradition that connects the community to the realms of myth and imagination.

The Badalisc tradition in Val Camonica showcases the power of folklore in uniting communities and preserving cultural heritage. It serves as a vibrant reminder of the rich tapestry of legends and customs that shape our world. So, if you ever find yourself in this corner of Italy, be prepared to immerse yourself in the whimsical and mysterious realm of the Badalisc, where laughter, revelation, and joy intertwine in a truly unforgettable experience.

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