The Polenta Well

July 19, 2013 / Events
Corinaldo, Le Marche

A local story from the 15th century tells of a peasant who was returning home after a hard day in the fields, carrying a heavy sack of corn meal on his shoulders. Upon reaching the top of Via della Piaggia, which is your typical hilltop town “street” consisting of 109 long steps, he rested the sack atop the well to catch his breath.

While he rested, the sack of cornmeal unfortunately toppled over and flew down into the well. The sack was big enough that he would have been able to feed his entire family for a long time with it, and so in despair, he lowered himself into the well to see if he could…


…well, here the story changes depending on who in town is telling it. Some say he tried to gather up the now wet polenta, some say he waited for it to swell up with water and then began eating it right then and there, some say he simply moped about at the bottom of the well. All agree he spent quite some time down there, and many add all sorts of fun endings such as much of the town lowering themselves down there too, out of worry for him, and joining him in the impromptu feast.

After our own heart, the Corinaldesi will never ruin a good story with the truth. What matters is that it is told well and passed on from one generation to the next. And so to ensure this, they have been celebrating the Contesa del Pozzo della Polenta (roughly, the Competition or Dispute of the Polenta Well) in true Italian fashion for a while now (1517), with elaborate games and competitions between Corinaldo’s rioni, music, markets, beautiful parades in historic garb, re-enactment of the unfortunate polenta sack occurrence, and of course ridiculous amounts of food over four days every year (2013 edition is this weekend).

Might seems like much ado about nothing… I mean, a bag of corn meal?! Big deal right? We dare anyone to head over to Corinaldo and try to assert as much after this weekend.

Corinaldo, considered the best kept historic town in Le Marche with its complete original defensive walls, is just a few miles up the road from Senigallia, where the ’50s culture festa that Enrica mentioned in a note a few days ago is going on… makes for a great opportunity to “time travel” in Le Marche this weekend. All proceeds from the Contesa this year go to help a local little girl fight her fight.

Many thanks to the Associazione Pozzo della Polenta for the use of these great photos!



by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

6 Responses to “The Polenta Well”

  1. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    …and our family (part from Le Marche))not being of that town make jest, in a good natured,sarcastic way of the fool that let his grain fall into the well without the proper seasoning and salsa

  2. I enjoyed this story.

    As a helpful hint for historical accuracy.

    “A local story from the 15th century tells of a peasant who was”
    The 15th century is 1400 to 1499.
    Corn was only brought back to Europe after Columbus’ voyage in 1492.
    So 1517 barely makes it and is the 16th century


    • GB

      Heheh.. right you are, Gene! Yet as we mention further down in the note, we hate to “ruin a good story with the truth”! ;-)

  3. Non a caso si chiama “il paese dei matti”! Mi piace la storia di Scuretto. Corinaldo is called the town of madmen for a reason – I like the story of Scuretto.

  4. Enrica

    Great note, GB! Corinaldo is absolutely gorgeous, and full of heart too. Because as you mentioned, the association will donate their proceeds to a very sweet little girl who needs to go to Boston for her medical care.
    Side note: there is an Osteria right next to that well — a great place to share some salumi and drink a glass of Verdicchio while thinking about the people who live on those stairs . . . bringing up their groceries (or sack of cornmeal, as it were) is a daily occurrence. No need for a gym membership for them!

  5. Gull-britt Lundstrom

    Both you and Anne makes me want to go to the places you whrite about!


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