The Marriage of the Trees, or Il Maggio di Accettura, is a pagan festival which dates back thousands of years and symbolises the relationship between man and nature.
The ancient ritual in which two trees are married is thought to ensure fertility and a fruitful harvest at the end of the season, and in more recent times, has become integrated into the wider celebrations of the town’s patron saint, San Giuliano.
The annual festival lasts several weeks, and begins on the first Sunday after Easter, when a group of local men venture into the surrounding Montepiano forest to pick out the tallest, straightest and healthiest oak, which will become the groom, or the Maggio.
The following Sunday, men flock to the Gallipoli-Cognato forest, on the other side of the town, to cut down the leafy top of a holly tree, known as the bride, or the Cima, which will be united with the Maggio in the weeks to come.
On Ascension Thursday, the Maggio is chopped down and eight days later, it’s dragged to the town’s outskirts by fifty pairs of oxen.
On Pentecost Sunday, the Maggio continues its journey into the town centre while the Cima is chopped down and carried on the shoulders of local men for around 15 kilometres to meet her groom.
As both trees descend towards the town, they are greeted by a lively and passionate group of Accetturese people, who celebrate the ritual with music, dancing, food and wine (which is shared by everyone with everyone from the early hours of the morning).
The following day, the locals rest in preparation for the main event.
On the Tuesday, the statue of San Giuliano is carried around the streets accompanied by avid faithfuls, before arriving at the town centre where the Maggio and the Cima have been joined together as one and are slowly elevated into the air.
In the afternoon, young and courageous climbers race to reach the top of the towering tree, around 40 metres above the ground, where they entertain a speechless crowd.
Similar festivals are held in other towns across Basilicata, including Olivetto Lucano, Pietrapertosa, Castelmezzano, Castelsaraceno, Rotonda, Viggianello and Terranova di Pollino.
The Marriage of the Trees not only celebrates the union of the Maggio and the Cima; it also demonstrates the strong union between man and nature which has endured thousands of years.