Countdown to Departure from Italy. 11 Days to Go. Arezzo’s Amazing Joust Festival!

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.” 

 

"Hey! The buildings are wearing their costumes for the Giostra!" Lulu said.
“Hey! The buildings are wearing their costumes for the Giostra!” Lulu said.

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.

Comune

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.”

Joust Santo Spirito

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.

Sbandieratori WS

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,

Baci, Gina

Copyright Gina London 2014.  All Rights Reserved.

 

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AREZZO’S GIOSTRA DEL SARACINO an insider’s visit to a little-known medieval festival in the heart of Tuscany

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.

A Giostra musician stands under the clock tower in Arezzo's Piazza della Liberta. Photo by Massimo Di  Gorga
A Giostra musician stands under the clock tower in Arezzo’s Piazza della Liberta. Photo by Massimo Di Gorga

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.

The "Lancia d'Oro" arrives in Piazza Grande at the start of Arezzo's Giostra Tournament.  Photo by Massimo Di Gorga
The “Lancia d’Oro” arrives in Piazza Grande at the start of Arezzo’s Giostra Tournament. Photo by Massimo Di Gorga

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.”

A knight from Porta Santo Spirito rides toward "Buratto," the score shield holding infidel.  Photo by Massimo Di Gorga.
A knight from Porta Santo Spirito rides toward “Buratto,” the score shield holding infidel. Photo by Massimo Di Gorga.

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 whites of Buratto's eyes with Arezzo's 13th century clocktower in the background. Photo by Massimo Di Gorga
The whites of Buratto’s eyes with Arezzo’s 13th century clocktower in the background. Photo by Massimo Di Gorga

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.

Knight from Porta del Foro charges toward Buratto. Photo by Massimo Di Gorga
Knight from Porta del Foro charges toward Buratto. Photo by Massimo Di Gorga

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.

The thrill of victory! Photo by Massimo Di Gorga
The thrill of victory! Photo by Massimo Di Gorga

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.

Baci, Gina

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!