“Copyright picture: Danila Saja”
Dives into the water one after the other, thunderous applause, shouts of encouragement, the sea that glitters blindingly in the early afternoon sun, a crowd of colors on the beach, the names of the players shouted into the microphone that echo in the distance, the many faces with frowns intent on observing the long pole that sways, greasy and slippery, under the bare feet of those who walk along it with cunning. All this is the ‘Ntinna a mare.
On August 6, Cefalù celebrates the Holy Savior and in his honor there are many games, among which the oldest is the ‘ntinna a mare. It is a traditional game where 17 participants, belonging to ancient families of fishermen from Cefalù, challenge each other to be able to grab a flag showing the face of the Holy Saviour, placed at the end of a wooden beam 16 meters long, fixed on the pier and protruding into the sea. Everything seems to be too simple, but the beam is sprinkled with soap and grease, so as to make the challenge much more difficult than you think.
The origins of the game are unknown and there are no certain sources. It is supposed that the game was born on the occasion of the earthquake of 1783, which involved Sicily and Calabria, destroying many countries but leaving Cefalù unscathed. This explains the number of the edition that each year appears on the posters that adopt 1783 as the date of reference.
According to other possible hypothesis the origins of the game would be much more ancient and they would go back to the custom that sailors had on board of naval boats equipped with bowsprit at the bow, to challenge each other along this pole to pass the time, probably putting a piece of cloth at the end. In fact, although the game is very famous in Cefalù, it takes place with similar characteristics in various Sicilian towns such as Sciacca, Augusta and Porto Empedocle.
We don’t know for sure when this tradition was born in Cefalù, but in spite of this, the ‘ntinna a mare remains, and will always remain, an unmissable appointment with popular tradition, a unique occasion to assist to a spectacle full of folklore, which annually gathers the local people during one of the most characteristic moments of Cefalù’s history, attracting curious and enthusiastic tourists for the joyful and cheerful atmosphere that one breathes during the afternoon hours of August 6th, at the ancient pier of the Marina.
The ‘ntinna a mare for the people of Cefalù will never be just a game… it hides an important value, a tradition to be kept with pride, a precise organization and meticulous rules, a long-awaited moment that always gives new emotions…