Cappelle sul Tavo is a small rural town located near Pescara, in the central Abruzzo region, home to around 4000 residents.

The farming town is perched on a hill, surrounded by olive groves and vast fields where the river Tavo flows into the river Fino.

Every year since 1975, the town celebrates Ferragosto with a multi-day festival that culminates on August 15 with an explosive event: the Palio delle Pupe.

Fourteen districts take part in the peculiar competition, drawing crowds from all over the area.

On the day, specially designed pupe, or papier-mâché female effigies drawn on carts, are wheeled into the town’s sports field.

Representatives from each district climb up inside the dolls and perform a provocative dance to folk music that was originally done in hopes of a fertile harvest. 

Fireworks are launched from different parts of the dolls until the grand finale, when a pinwheel firework explodes from each effigy’s head.

Photo: Facebook/Associazione “palio”

The most spectacular effigy and fireworks display wins the contest for that year.

The tradition is thought to be linked to ancient fertility rites and, more practically, to the custom of keeping scarecrow-like figures in the fields around the town.

In addition to the dancing and exploding dolls, the streets are packed with flags, banners and food stalls.

The celebration is a vivid and unforgettable feast for the eyes.

Festivals come and festivals go, but for sheer intrigue, the Palio delle Pupe stands out as one of the most unusual.

Dancing, exploding dolls? Now that’s something you don’t see every day!