What is a giglio?

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 Note: In Italy the base is approximately 8' x 8' to accommodate carrying the Giglio down narrow streets.

 Can you picture over 100 men carrying a 5-ton, 5-story tall hand-built, papier-mâché statue including a 12 piece band on their shoulders in celebration of a man, San Paolino di Nola who lived in the 5 century AD? The Giglio, pronounced Jee-li-yo, which means Lily in Italian is the name of this statue, it is a time-honored tradition of people from the Neapolitan (Naples) region of Italy. For a complete understanding of why we Dance the Giglio visit the Origin & History page.

The above addresses the philosophical question 'What is a Giglio?' But in this section we will answer the question from a physical viewpoint. The first thing you need to understand is that a Giglio structure is actually comprised of 3 components:

The Base The Tower The Face


Keep in mind that over the years and even between Italy and America, the way a Giglio is built varies. What is explained in this section is basically the way a Giglio has been built in America for the past 100 years. Where appropriate, notations will be provided explaining the difference between a Giglio built in America and a Giglio built in Italy.

The Base

The base of the Giglio in America is a 10' by 10' square frame that carries the weight of the entire Giglio which includes the Tower, the Face and the 12 piece Band.   The base stands on four 10 foot high-6" by 6" wooden legs. The legs are attached to each other at the top and bottom by 2" x 6"s and in the middle by a 2" x 8"s creating the box like frame. Protruding forward from the front pair of legs is a 2-tier wooden bench that acts as the band stand for the musicians. Directly in the center of the 10' x 10' frame are four 20 foot high-4" x 4"s wooden uprights called 'the box'. The box is really the start of the tower that ties it into the base. It is connected on two crisscrossing 3" x 8"s that serve two purposes, the first to carry the load of the Tower and secondly to keep the frame of the base from twisting. 2" x 6" and 2" x 4" pieces of wood are used through out to provide additional support for the base. The entire base is held together with bolts and nuts and all material is mostly re-used year after year. Occasionally, various pieces of wood in the base are replaced depending on its condition from the previous year.

The Tower

The tower as mentioned above starts out as a 4-foot frame (known as 'the box') at the base. The box is created by four 4' x 4' uprights, 20 feet high and attach to the base on 2 crisscrossing 3" x 6" pieces of wood. 2" x 4"s are used both horizontally as well as diagonally to keep the four 4" x 4"s uprights from losing their spacing as we travel upwards. Once the top of the 20-foot 4" x 4"s are reached, 12-foot 2" x 3"s are used to continue the uprights skyward. This continues until the desired height is reached, which in the case of the Giglio on Long Island is 72 feet tall. (Note: In Italy the Gigli are 90 feet tall). As the tower travels upward the spacing between the 2" x 3" uprights starts to taper inward becoming narrower and narrower. This is done to accommodate the Giglio face which tapers in the higher you go.

When building the tower, you have one of two styles you can build. The first is know as the 'Box-style', where the box started at the base is carried all the way up the Giglio tower until the desired height is reached. This style is the simpler and easier to build, but the down side is that it makes the Giglio more ridged, taking away from the beauty in the bounce of the Giglio that makes it 'come to life' when danced. Depicted in the picture on the right is the building of the 'Box-style' tower, here the 2" x 3" uprights extended upward directly from the top of the four 4" x 4" uprights.

The second more picturesque and popular way to build a tower is called the 'Spine' type. Here, a fifth upright is introduced in the middle of the 2" x 4" on the back side of the Giglio from just above the end of the 4" x 4" upright box. In doing so you can connect 'ribs' to the 'spine' (the 5th upright in the back of the tower) and by bellowing out the 'spine' at the lower section, you provide 'give' in the tower that allows the tower to bounce front to back, making the face 'come to life' during the dancing. This is depicted in the picture on the left. Here you are looking at a front/side view of the tower. Towards the lower part of the picture you see the box created by the 4" x 4" uprights. On the back side you can make out the fifth upright that creates the 'Spine'. This is accomplished by moving the two back 2" x 3" uprights forward on the 4" x 4" box to somewhere in the middle of the 2" x 4" cross rib.

The Face

The face of the Giglio is the most known and recognizable component of the 3, primarily because of its beauty and splendor. The face is a hand sculptured piece of art made of papier-mâché figurines such as Angels, Saints and various flowers (primarily Lillies or Gigli in Italian). Although it is made to look like one long continuous piece of art, the face is actually broken up in 5 or 6 sections (the bottom section of the LI Face is pictured on the right) so that it could easily be handled, maneuvered and worked on. The face has a spire-like appearance to it, starting off larger at the bottom (approx. 4 feet in width) and tapering off at the top where the width can be as little as 18". At the top of the face usually sits the feast's or town's patron saint, San Paolino or San Antonio. Other Saints such as St Joseph or the Blessed Mother Mary are incorporated into the face at various heights.

In Italy each year a new face is designed and created from scratch for every Giglio. This is due primarily to the fact that one of the numerous prizes handed out each year is to the Best Dressed Giglio. Many months are spent designing a face, first drawing it on paper before actual sculpturing begins. Accompanying each face is a facade placed in front and sometimes on the side of the Giglio to disguise the wooden base and obscure it from view during the week leading up to Giglio Sunday (see facade pictured on left). This completely dresses up the Giglio transforming it in to a true masterpiece that has little resemblance of what it really becomes. Many Gigli faces have lights incorporate directly into it giving it the ability to illuminate during the night time dancing.

In America, the face of the Giglios usually stays the same for a number of years before undergoing any major changes. This is primarily due to monetary as well as resource constraints. What is changed from time to time is the color scheme of the Giglio. Repainting it every other year or so is usually done to signify a new Capo Paranza or commemorate a particular year.

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