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The Treasonous Past of Famous Gianduja of Carnevale

The theme for February with the Blogging Piemonte group is Carnevale! Don't forget to check out the other bloggers' posts at the bottom (regularly updated).

Imagine a time when popular entertainment was not a night of Netflix binging, going to the movies (do people still do that?), or even just browsing the internet. Think back to a time even before people gathered around the radio to tune in to stories, music, or news, back to the 1800s when a good show was a street artist and a fancy night out meant the opera.

Back then, puppeteers could be as famous as a celebrity. Puppet shows, full of political satire, wit, and characters that everyone knew and loved, were top in the box office.

One of the Carnevale’s most famous characters in Piemonte began as a puppet: Gianduja. Today, he is known as a food-loving Piemontese countryman who always brings wine to the party, and as the namesake of Turin’s famous hazelnut chocolates, gianduiotti. However, his creators put on shows throughout Piemonte and beyond, went to prison twice, and dodged death once before he took on life.

Gianduja began with an entirely different name in the hands of two puppeteers, Giovanni Battista Sales and Gioacchino Bellone. These two men began to make a name for themselves in Genoa in 1802, where they put on shows with a character named Gerolamo (in dialect, Gironi d’la Crina, possibly a character that went back as far as the early 1600s).

PuppeteerPuppeteer. Photo from Víctor Nuño, Creative Commons

At that time, Genoa was under the French influence of Napoleon; and exactly at that time, Napoleon elected Gerolamo Durazzo to be the Doge of the Ligurian Republic.

Censorship was running high in Italy; in some places, the puppeteers were required to submit their scripts to the police before they could be certified to put on the show. Puppet shows have long held the tradition of political satire and people liked seeing that, thus the censorship particularly cramped the puppeteers' style. And nothing but trouble could have come out of both the puppet and the Doge bearing the same name, even if it was just coincidence. According to the Mole 24, they were arrested after insulting the Doge (apparently the two men took advantage of the happy coincidence), but it must not have been too serious, for they were soon making their rounds in Piemonte.

Bellone and Sales gained renown and popularity in different towns of Piemonte, and so they decided to try their hand in the big city of Turin. Safely out of range of Gerolamo the Doge, they soon left the streets and piazzas behind—the traditional stage of the puppeteer—and ascended the steps of covered theaters putting on their popular shows.

But not so fast, boys! Another coincidence put them in a tight spot: Napoleon appointed his younger brother as King of Westphalia. His name? Jerome, or Gerolamo.

Apparently the two men learned no lesson from their time in Genoa apart from the fact that crowds love satire and political skewering. They were arrested by the Reverend Baudissone, “keeper of the peace,” for treason against Gerolamo. He locked them up in the Palatine Towers and condemned them to death. Luckily, they escaped to family friends in the wooded frazione of Callianetto in the Asti province, where they finally took the allegations seriously and transformed Gerolamo into Gianduja.

Porta Palatina in TurinPorta Palatina. Photo from mat_n, Creative Commons

Gianduja, or Gian d’la Duja (John of the “duja,” a Piemontese word for a jug of wine...can we call him Wine Jug John?), was officially introduced in Turin in 1808 with the show “The Magic Rings” or “The 99 Misfortunes of Gianduja.” The crowds loved him. A new character was born. Today, with his spreading popularity, cultural ties, and humorous antics, he might even be called a meme.

In 1848, freedom of the press was granted with the Statuto Albertino, and newspapers were quick to pick up Gianduja for satirical use. He remained an important figure in Piemontese culture and was adopted as a symbol for the Risorgimento, taking on yet another role as a patriotic symbol. Later down the line, he made appearances at Universal Expositions and during the inauguration of FIAT.

Today, Gianduja's character has toned down somewhat, and he is seen most often around Carnevale, appearing at all the parades of the many carnivals throughout the region. He's known to be a happy fellow, generous with his wine, and with a sharp tongue (so he hasn't lost all of his original punch and zing). He’s dressed in a brown wool jacket with red trim, a yellow waistcoast, stockings, and he almost always has a glass or jug of wine in hand.

Gianduja. Photo from

Blogging Piemonte group

About every month, the Blogging Piemonte group will meet to talk and decide on a topic we’ll all write about, from food and drink to travel and life in Piemonte. Follow along with the hashtag #BlogPiemonte!

Read up on what the others have to say about Carnevale (check back as it's updated!):

The Oldest Carnevale in Piemonte, by Once Upon a Time in Italy
Lettuce, Rags, and Lies for Carnival, by Turin Mamma
Carnivale in Piemonte Means Bugie! by Italianna
Ivrea: THE Carnival in Piedmont, by Turin Epicurean Capital
No Snow? Try Carnevale! by Living in the Langhe
At Carnival anything goes - Especially Wine! by Uncorkventional
Carnevale...with kids? by Langhe Secrets

Are you a blogger who lives in Piemonte and writes in English?

We'd love to have you join Blogging Piemonte! Just send me an email at diana.zahuranec [at]

It doesn't matter if you also blog in another language, as long as you post the Blogging Piemonte articles in English.

Ultima modifica: Martedì, 01 Marzo 2016 11:08
Diana Zahuranec

I love Piemonte’s food and wine, the city of Turin, and my proximity to the Alps! My goal and challenge is to see as much of the region as possible using public transportation, but if you have a car I’d appreciate the ride. My intro to wine was at the Univ. of Gastronomic Sciences, and I love visiting family wineries, plus discovering Piemonte's craft beer scene. I’m hard-pressed to choose a favorite wine, but Nebbiolo never disappoints (from Barbaresco to Ghemme). As for beer, the Birrificio San Michele makes an incredible beechwood smoked brew.

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