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The Tuscan historical competitions

Tournaments, jousts, palios and historical re-enactments are part of the Tuscan culture. A long tradition accompanies all the celebrations organized in each city, from the largest to the smallest one, which has its roots centuries ago. Among these events, the most important are the Palio of Siena, the historical football of Florence, the Saracen joust of Arezzo, the “Bravio delle botti” of Montepulciano and the Gioco del Ponte in Pisa. All events are now a competitition among districts of the cities.

The Palio of Siena is certainly the most historic and exciting horse race in Tuscany which held around the famous Piazza del Campo in Siena. It takes place twice a year, on 2 July and 16 August. The districts of the city in this race win the palio (banner) dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

In the days preceding the Palio race, the districts are in turmoil and dinners are set up in the narrow medieval streets of the city. Before the race, a historical parade animates the streets of the centre of Siena, ending in the Piazza del Campo square.

In Florence on June 24 the celebrations for the patron saint of the city (Saint John the Baptist) end. Spectacular fireworks can be admired from the banks of the Arno river. First a parade in historical costumes is organized which starts from the Church of Santa Maria Novella and ends at the Church of Santa Croce, where, in the square in front of the Church, Historical Football is played. This competitition is a combination of football, rugby and sometimes wrestling, played in 16th century costumes. The four teams represent the four historic districts of the city: Santa Croce (blue), Santo Spirito (white), Santa Maria Novella (red) and San Giovanni (green). The prize is a calf.

The traditional Saracen joust takes place in Piazza Grande, the main square of Arezzo. This ancient tournament is held twice a year, on the third Saturday of June in the night version and during the afternoon on the first Sunday of September. The tournament originated in the 16th century and, in its current form, recalls the attempts of Christians to slow the advance of Islam in the 14th century. Before the joust begins, a colorful historical parades through the streets of the city, which ends right in Piazza Grande. In the joust of the Saracen eight knights in costume throw themselves at a puppet, representing the Saracen, trying to hit his shield with their spear. The target, called “Buratto”, at the moment of impact, rotates and hits the knight, in case he is not fast enough. The winner receives a golden spear as a prize.

On the last Saturday of June Pisa is the setting for the “Gioco del Ponte” (Battle of the bridge), a re-enactment of a medieval battle that takes place on the main bridge of Pisa. The battle is preceded by a historical parade in costume that crosses the city, made up of more than 700 figures, of which 41 on horseback, all in historical costume as in the sixteenth century. The battle is set on the Mezzo bridge, where the teams of the neighborhoods belonging to the two rival city factions demonstrate their respective physical power, in a competitive atmosphere. Victory is awarded to the team that remains owner of the bridge.

Last but not least, the “Bravio delle botti” is a challenge which takes place on the last Sunday of August in Montepulciano. It is a race with barrels through the streets of the small town in the province of Siena. The eight districts of Montepulciano compete in this competition, competing for the prize. The wooden barrels, weighing about 80 kg, are rolled uphill for about 1800 meters along the main street of the town to Grande Square, in front of the Cathedral. The race is preceded by a parade in historical costumes and followed by celebrations on the town streets.