Rediscovering the heart of Romagna at the Segavecchia Festival

Every year in the small town of Cotignola in the province of Ravenna, one of the oldest festivals in Romagna is held: the Segavecia or Segavecchia Festival. Although the name of the festival is not particularly inviting, it is one of the most popular and appreciated events in the area.

This festival has now reached its 566th edition and commemorates a very mysterious story, based on a combination of reality and legend.

The story goes that Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, went to Cotignola to visit his mother, Lucia. While in the town, he was taken seriously ill and there seemed to be no cure for his sudden illness. This was an age when people’s minds were driven by suspicion and superstition and the cause of his illness was soon uncovered when an old lady was discovered to be pricking an effigy of the Duke with a needle. And so popular belief was that the old lady was using witchcraft to make poor Sforza fall ill with her curse!

The old lady was soon put to death in the main square with no hope of being saved as the cheering crowd looked on. In the meantime, the Duke recovered from his terrible illness and decreed celebrations to be held in all the lands governed by him in spite of it being the middle of Lent.

And so today, the Segavecchia Festival is repeated every year almost as an allegory to ward off bad luck and spread hope for the future.

So go to Cotignola between the end of February and the first half of March to celebrate the return of the Duke of Milan’s health and to explore the town and its traditions.

From Thursday to Sunday, Cotignola is animated by food stalls, art, music and entertainment as well as historical re-enactments, religious tradition and pure Romagna folklore. During the four days of celebration there are exhibitions by musical bands, dancers and majorettes, as well as parades with floats, medieval costumes, games and of course, an abundance of good local food.

Do not miss the end of the festival, the most famous and characteristic moment of the entire event! A huge papier mâché effigy of the old lady is carried into the main square accompanied by her executioner.

We strongly advise you not to be alarmed and if you can, find a place in the front row especially if you have a sweet tooth, because after reading the old lady’s death sentence, the executioner saws her head off which is filled with sweets and dried fruit to offer to the crowd!