Occitania and its Traditions
What is Occitania
It is the civilisation and culture centred around the d’Oc language, which has never been a united state, dating back to the year 1000. Occitania stretches from the Pyrenees to the Alps, from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic ocean including the entire centre-south of France (Provence, Dauphine, Auvergne, Limoges, Guiana, Languedoc and Gascony), the Val d’Aran in Spain and 16 valleys in Italy in the provinces of Cuneo and Turin as well as a small part of the province of Imperia in Liguria. The town of Guardia Piedmontese in Calabria in the south of Italy is also part of the linguistic area following a migration of d’Oc speakers to the area.
The term “Occitania”, which seemed to be non-existent until a few decades ago, had already been used in written records from as early as 1290 to indicate a geographical area of 19,000 Km sq, inhabited by 13 million people.
In the 1700s and 1800s with the rise of the nation states, Occitania was split under Italian French and Spanish rule due to its lack of military might to defend its integrity. The three official languages gained the upper hand and the main unifying force holding the area together , i.e. the language, began to weaken and die out. However, this did not spell the end for other forms of local tradition such as music and dance, which in recent years have seen an extraordinary revival.
The Occitan Valleys in Italy
The Italian territories with an Occitan tradition are: the valleys of the upper Susa, Chisone , Germanasca and Pellice, in the province of Turin; the valleys of the Po, Varaita, Maira, Grana, Stura, Gesso, Vermenagna, Ellero, Pesio and Corsaglia in the province of Cuneo and Olivetta San Michele and a part of Triora in the province of Imperia. This is mainly a mountainous terrain in which 180,00 people live.
Historically these areas have always had a strong connection to the French side of the Alps rather than the rest of Italy. Tradition and trade are favoured by the Alpine passes. The Law 482 of 1999 of the Italian state recognises the Occitan area as an ethnic-linguistic minority.
Occitan Music and Dance
There was a time when people used to gather in hostelries or in the town square to spend some time enjoying themselves especially on feast days which involved all of the townsfolk in dancing, singing and music-making.
Hundreds of examples of music and dance from the Occitan area have been conserved to our days. They show the specific features of their area of origin and are often quite different from one another, The common denominator is the use of similar musical instruments all over the Occitan area, although some are more common in one area than another. The most widespread instruments are the semidiatonic accordion and more recently the piano accordion, the bagpipes, the hurdy-gurdy, the violin, the galoubet and the drums.
The music and dances known today have in many cases years, decades or centuries of history.