Pesa Vegia is a must see during the Christmas holidays when, each year, an event steeped in over 400 years of history is re-enacted for visitors on January 5th, keeping the legend and magic intact. Many are the legends and assumptions that have arisen over the years regarding the birth of this centuries-old event. Recent research by Antonio Rusconi — published in the book entitled Pesa Vegia tra leggenda e realtà (Pesa Vegia: legend and myth) — has found documentation indicating that the origins most likely date to about 1605, the year in which the Governor Pedro Acevedo, Count of Fuentes issued an edict abrogating a previous reform of 1604 and reinstating the old units of measure (and hence the name Pesa Vegia or old weight).
The new units of measure or “pesa nova” were not well received by the merchants of Bellano: it was deemed that, if the application of that “iniqua ordinanza”, “that unjust ruling”, could not be blocked, it would be a true and proper calamity for the town’s commerce.
Thus, at a highly animated Town Hall meeting, they decided to petition the Governor to void the new weights and issue an new edict reinstating the old. Showing his great magnanimity, the Count of Fuentes received the appeal from the people of Bellano and started out for this town in the Lario zone, at the head of the delegation.
In town, the atmosphere was tense, awaiting the outcome of the expedition. From the early afternoon there were unusual comings and goings in the Puncia and, after sundown, the banks on the other side of the Pioverna were teeming with young and old alike, anxiously awaiting the vessel.
Time flowed unmercifully. Darkness fell, the air was sharp and cold.
Huddled around a bonfire, the men and women were deep in thought; they were worried. And their eyes occasionally peered into the darkness of the lake, seeking any sign. Suddenly, a lapping sound was heard. The chilled people of Bellano rose to their feet, peering into the distance. And, when they saw the gondola approach, at the top of their lungs they shouted from the banks “Pesa vegia o Pesa nova?” (old weights or new?); “Pesa Vegia” was the reply. The people and merchants rejoiced. The entire town ran to the docks to welcome the Spanish messengers, bearers of the generous ruling. Someone recalled that it was the eve of Epiphany and, mad with joy, the people re-enacted the scene of the Magi, and a long, improvised procession wove its way through the streets of the town, stopping to drink and eat in the bars and restaurants that remained open throughout the night.
In Bellano, this event has been celebrated each year for four centuries, even in wartime and periods of hardship, staging the procession of the Magi, running the Weights through the streets of the town and building a bonfire at the quay. Over the years, the way this happy story is enacted has undergone many changes and innovations. And so, in the late XX century, the Governor’s reading of the edict from the Town Hall balcony was added along with a living nativity scene, King Herod’s castle and much more: elements that are part of the traditional Feast of the Magi, thus giving rise to that folk event where sacred and profane come together in an indissoluble bond called “Pesa Vegia”.
Below you can find an image gallery of the “Pesa Vegia” by Carlo Borlenghi
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