© iStock/ezioman
© iStock/ezioman
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The Museum of Mediterranean Masks in Mamoiada

3 minutes to read
For the Mamuthones, it is a solemn ceremony, like a procession, which is at the same time a dance ...  (Raffaello Marchi)

In Mamoiada, in the heart of Barbagia, there is an extraordinary museum. It is the Museum of Mediterranean Masks, MaMu, born in 2001. This museum was born to illustrate the infinite points of contact between the traditional Sardinian masks, known all over the world ( Mamuthones and Issohadores) and the Mediterranean area. These Carnival masks- used throughout the Mediterranean area- reveal historical and cultural attributes of the area.

© Giovanni Bussu
© Giovanni Bussu

In particular, the MaMu does intend to show the world the common roots of the Mediterranean. The museum represents the center of a community, a strong attraction for tourism, but above all, a place where the inhabitants are involved as protagonists. This museum primarily explains the use of wooden facial masks, grotesque masks, sheepskins, cowbells, and tools used to create deafening sounds. These masks belonged to the tradition of shepherds and peasants and were worn initially, as a sign of power in the flock life. These were used during ancestral agricultural rites, that were taking place during the "return to light after winter" (changing seasons). For this reason, those who arrived wearing this mask were welcomed with hospitality and reverence.

MaMu - Museo delle Maschere , Museo della Cultura e del Lavoro, MATer
MaMu - Museo delle Maschere , Museo della Cultura e del Lavoro, MATer
Piazza Europa 15, 08024 Mamoiada

Mamoiada and the Carnival

In Mamoiada, every year on January 17th, Sant’Antonio Abate day, the Barbaricine masks make their appearance. The festival is called “Sant’Antonio del Fuoco,” and several bonfires are lit in the village. Around these fires the characteristic dances of the Mamuthones and the Issohadores take place- the whole country is marked with the sound of cowbells.

The Mamuthones wear a black carved wooden mask, which draws very marked facial features. They also wear a sheepskin, on which they attach very heavy cowbells (sa carriga). As they pass through the country parading, the Mamuthones march in a rhythmic way that generates deafening sounds. The Issohadores wear a red jacket and a white mask.

The feast of January 17th officially starts the Barbaricino Carnival, known throughout the world and very much felt by the whole community, which crowds the main square. The Carnival ends with the mask of "Juvanne Martis Sero," a puppet that is put on a cart and dragged through the streets of the town.

© Daniela Metteo
© Daniela Metteo

Introduction to the Museum

The visit starts in a multimedia room, where the visitor can watch introductory videos, describing the origin of the Mamoiada Carnival and the Mamuthones masks. Below you can see the oldest Mamuthone mask, dating back to the early nineteenth century.

© Angelo Cucca Lavorazione Maschere
© Angelo Cucca Lavorazione Maschere

Barbagia Carnival Hall

This room contains a series of masks from central Sardinia, two complete masks of Mamuthone and one of Issohadore, following the masks from Ottana and the Thurpos from Orotelli. Each of these masks is a demonstration of the man's attachment to the earth, with the common goal of driving away evil spirits, awakening the earth for the coming spring and simulating the animal behavior.

Mediterranean Hall

This room is divided into three parts, each one representing a different geographical area: the Alpine arc, the Iberian peninsula, the Balkan peninsula. You will be amazed by the surprising similarity between all the masks in the Mediterranean area.

Composition of the mask

The Mamuthones costume is composed as follows: a dark wooden face mask, a handkerchief that covers the head tied around the face, a cap, black sheepskins covering the bust, leather boots, a cowbell belt held together by leather straps and placed on the back, and a full-body dark velvet dress.

© iStock/rattodisabina
© iStock/rattodisabina

The Issohadores mask is more vivid, and consists of a white wooden mask, a black cloth hat held by a colored handkerchief and tied around the face, a red cloth jacket, a white shirt, white trousers, a shawl folded into a triangle and tied at the waist, (painted or embroidered), shoe covers, a rush rope, and a leather belt handmade with bells crossing the bust.

© iStock/rattodisabina
© iStock/rattodisabina

Participating in the rites of the Barbagia Carnival is one of those things that must be done at least once in a lifetime. It is advisable to go during the Carnival days, participate in the parade and visit the Museum of Mediterranean Masks in Mamoiada. You could also go around shopping and taste local products. The meat and cheese are famous, with the carasau bread. You'll also try excellent sweets and superb wines. What are you waiting for? Barbagia is waiting for you!  

Bakery I Sapori della Tradizione Mamoiada
Bakery I Sapori della Tradizione Mamoiada
Via Fratelli Cairoli, 08024 Mamoiada NU, Italia
Cantina Sedilesu Mamoiada
Cantina Sedilesu Mamoiada
Via V. Emanuele II, 64, 08024 Mamoiada NU, Italia
Confectionery Antichi Sapori Rina Congiu Mamoiada
Confectionery Antichi Sapori Rina Congiu Mamoiada
Via Cagliari, 16, 08024 Mamoiada NU, Italia

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The author

Mara Noveni

Mara Noveni

My name is Mara, I am Italian, born in Rome and raised in the wonderful Tuscany. Always in love with reading and writing, I completed this way of expressing myself through photography, especially street and travel photography. Thanks to my many and long travel experiences, I have enriched my mind and my inner life.

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