I knew I was going to see a sign of Pulcinella before arriving to Naples. After all, I was aware that somewhere in the city there is a statue dedicated to this commedia dell’arte character. What I didn’t know was that Napoletani (Neapolitans) truly embraced this zanni character to the fullest in ways I could not imagine, even more than Venetians embrace Pantalone. 

First, there is the famous bust of Pulcinella, located in the infamous “Vico del Fico al Purgatori” (The Alley of the Fig Tree of Purgatory.) And then there is the hundreds and hundreds of Pulcinella images, figurines, paintings, posters, logos, refrigerator magnets, souvenirs, ornaments, t-shirts, commercial signs, and masks. There is so much of Pulcinella all around, especially in the “Centro Storico,” that if you are a person who doesn’t know who Pulcinella is when you arrive, you will know of his existence by the time you leave. You may not know he is a commedia dell’arte character, but you will know he is an important symbol of the city.  

I asked some of the locals who this figure wearing white pants, an oversize white top, a black half-mask, and a white pointed hat was. Many quickly responded he was a clown and left it at that. Others elaborated telling me that his name was Pulcinella, and that it was a puppet, a marionette, that acted like a fool and made people laugh at all times. Local artists, who make a living making high-end Pulcinella figurines, added even more, telling me about commedia dell’arte and how Pulcinella is a central figure in Neapolitan puppetry and theatre, dating back to the 17th century.

I was truly amazed by how people (young and old) embraced Pulcinella. They all seem to be proud to have him as a symbol of the city (Napoli) and the region (Campania.) And because Pulcinella is embedded in the cultural fabric of this part of Italy, this commedia dell’arte character and marionette, is ever present in people’s consciousness and lives from the moment they are born.   

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