The first Sunday of September in the afternoon, thousands of people gather in the town of Arezzo, Tuscany. The reason? The Giostra del Saracino
(Joust of the Saracen), an incredibly popular medieval tournament held
in this lovely old city twice a year, in July as well as September. It
is said that the origins of the joust go back to the Crusades, and its
popularity varied during time, before being firmly reinstated during the
As you arrive, you
really have the feeling that you have stepped back in time… A great deal
of detail goes into the historical costums, and the explosion of
colours is a pure delight. Not only are the protagonists of the
tournament dressed that way, but residents too. On the day of the event,
a procession takes place from the dome to the Piazza Grande, starting
with a blessing of the Bishop in front of the cathedral. Once everyone
is gathered in the main square, the flag wavers, known as the
sbandieratori, demonstrate their skills, launching their flags high into
the sky before catching them at the last second. It is then time for
the representatives of the four districts to defy each other. They joust
in pairs, mounted on a horse, but nowadays do not throw lances at each
other anymore. Instead, the aim of the game is to hit the Saracen king, a
target carved in wood, trying to score a maximum of points in order to
win the golden lance.
There are also several
other traditional events to choose from, not only in Tuscany but also in
regions such as Umbria or Le Marche.
The Quintana of Foligno (Umbria) is one of them. It was named after the 5th
road of the Roman military camp, dedicated to the training of lance
fighting, and was later turned into a knight jousting tournament. In
1613 it was officially instated as part of the Carnival celebrations.
The first part of the event is held in June on a Saturday night, and the
counter challenge the second or third Sunday of September. Ten knights,
representing the town quarters, are competing. Their duty is to catch
with their lance three rings of decreasing sizes, which are dangling
from a gyrating statue of Mars, the Roman God of war. All this while
sitting on a horse going at full speed.
Other possibilities include the Palio del Serafino in Sarnano or the Disfia del Bracciale in Treia, both located in the Marche region. The Palio del Serafino is a reminiscence of the 13th and 14th
centuries that happens in August and consists of a week of processions,
banquets and tournaments opposing the four different part of the town.
The Disfia del Bracciale sees teams of two players dressed in
medieval costumes and sporting big spiky bracelets made of wood confront
each other. The purpose of the game, played against the fortified
walls, is to propel a leather ball over a high net. The match and the
party that follow are the culminating point of ten days of celebrations.
Are you ready to join in?