If you’ve ever imagined you were a princess in a castle or a knight on a galloping steed, Arezzo’s Giostra del Saracino, is for you!
It’s today at five o’clock and the city wonderfully has given us seats in the Stampa or Journalists’ section. If you can’t make it, here’s what you’re missing!
The ominous sound of drums reverberates in the distance. Soon a blast of trumpets joins the beat. The powerful music, played by a procession of men wearing vibrant tights, short black boots, and long colorful tunics, heralds the arrival of La Giostra del Saracino, the bi-annual jousting festival in Arezzo, our adopted hometown, just 50 miles southeast of Florence, in the heart of Tuscany.
Every June and September, this medieval-walled town steps back into time to celebrate the Middle Ages when knights of the Crusades dashed off to vanquish the Saracini , otherwise known as Infidels or Saracens.
Tournaments were held frequently between the 16th and 17th centuries and then more sporadically during the 18th and 19th centuries. Now, since 1931, the competition is a regular event that evokes powerful rivalries among residents and visitors alike as four neighborhood teams, or quartieri, aim to win the coveted Lancia d’Oro or Lance of Gold.
As an American now living here in Arezzo, I’ve been fortunate to attend the joust three times, once as a personal guest of Mayor Giuseppe Fanfani, as Piazza Grande, or Grand Plaza, is transformed into a spectator-filled joust field. Each neighborhood enters two knights who take one turn riding a horse at full gallop with their lance pointed toward an enormous wooden mannequin named “Buratto, King of the Indies.”
Buratto is mounted on a post that swivels. He’s wound up tight as a top and holds three leather balls hanging from chains in his outstretched right hand and the score shield in his left. For each run, hulky guards insert into the score shield a target sheet that’s divided by a red cross with a bull’s eye in the center. Each quadrant of the sheet, including the cross lines, is worth varying numbers of points. At five, the red bull’s eye is worth the most.
The knights charge toward the bull’s eye in a dramatic and dangerous contest of accuracy and dexterity. They must hit the center while at the same time avoid being walloped by Buratto’s menacing weapons when he forcefully spins on impact.
When the final run is complete and the winning quartiere is announced, a cacophony erupts as a series of cannon blasts combines with cheers and jeers from fans.
Arezzo’s Giostra del Saracino is one of the lesser known festivals in Tuscany, but so filled with pomp and circumstance, it suspends time and bridges eras. Boisterous celebrations spread out of the Piazza and up to the town’s duomo or cathedral where people congregate to congratulate the arriving victorious team and horses.
It’s quite something to be inside an ancient Gothic cathedral where, with brightly lit with electric lights and smiling and screaming sports fans, it feels more like a rock concert than a prayerful service.
And that, my friends, is because Arezzo’s Giostra del Saracino Rocks!
See you next year here in Arezzo!
Let me know when you’re coming.
To learn more about Arezzo and its dramatic joust festival, buy my book, “Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me.” You won’t regret it!