The Orsanti Museum originated in Compiano, in the deconsecrated church of San Rocco. It gathers testimonies on the life of Orsanti, brave men, musicians and animal trainers that went around the world on roads and squares with their shows.
The image with which the visitor is confronted is surprising, almost dreamlike: large papier-mache bears, unusual musical instruments, costumes, prints, paintings, documents and everyday objects that narrate the history of these men that left Compiano – probably already in the 18th century – and adventurously reached faraway lands.
Orsanti are not fantastic creatures. The migration of truants really existed in the areas of Parma Apennines, and it’s rooted in the distant past. Begging, itinerant commerce, country work, spinning, street shows with animals – Orsanti and Scimmiari – or musical shows were the some of the ways through which the inhabitants of the Apennines tried to survive between the 18th and 19th century.
Once they reached a place that was frequently visited by people, they set up a stage for their show. Among the animals – monkeys, parrots or camels – that Orsanti trained, the most appreciated was the bear, which could weigh up to 350 kilograms and, once standing on its hinder legs, reached 2 metres in height.
The Orsanti made it dance, turn around, jump, but the most appealing show was the fight between trainer and bear. The fight was clearly staged for the purpose, also because a single blow from the bear could crack the neck of the trainer. The unforeseeable character of the bear was anyway a risky business for the show.
Often the show ended with the defeated bear, sprawled on the ground as though it was dead, carried away from the stage accompanied by the applause of the crowd. Of course, behind the stage, the bear was just as good as new…