This morning on our walk through Arezzo’s stunning Piazza Grande, Lulu noticed that the buildings overlooking the square “are wearing their costumes for the Joust!” This means that the city has hung a colorful array of noble crests on the 500-year-old stone towers – signalling the beginning of festivities for this year’s exciting “Giostra del Saracino.”
There are two medieval joust tournaments every summer, and the first one is set for June 21. Lulu, Scotty and I will not be here; it will sadly and notably be the first Giostra we will miss during the nearly three years we lived here.
As Kay Thompson’s Eloise might would’ve said if she had ever left the Plaza to witness Arezzo’s thrilling Giostra, “I love, love, LOVE the Joust!”
With gorgeous photos from our friend Massimo Di Gorga, and my article I submitted last year to The New York Times for a postcard on Arezzo, I now present to you one of the most dramatic spectacles in Italy – (which, to me, whoops a** on Siena’s careening free-for-all Palio horse race in terms of pageantry and skill – any day!)
AREZZO’S GIOSTRA DEL SARACINO
AN INSIDER’S VISIT TO A LITTLE-KNOWN FESTIVAL IN TUSCANY
As summer flares, so too, do the resonant strains of Italy’s many Medieval festivals. The powerful music played by a procession of men wearing vibrant tights, short black boots, and long colorful tunics is perhaps loudest heard in Arezzo, a town 50 miles southeast of Florence, in the heart of Tuscany, heralding the annual arrival of the La Giostra del Saracino.
Since 1931, the competition has become a regular event in this ancient walled town celebrating the time when knights of the Crusades dashed off to vanquish the Saracini , otherwise known asinfidels or Saracens.
As an American now living here in Arezzo, I’ve been fortunate to attend the joust four times as Piazza Grande, or the Grand Plaza, is transformed into a spectator-filled joust field. Each of the city’s four neighborhoods 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.
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 rock concert than a prayerful service.
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.
Thank you, Arezzo, for filling our lives with the excitement and splendor of your Giostra for the past three years. This summer we will remember it in our hearts. As Lulu would say, “Aaii Colcitrone~!!!”
With love and admiration for Arezzo’s Giostra del Saracino forever,
Copyright Gina London 2014. All Rights Reserved.