the Italians do!
In Italian you say “facciamo festa!”
In Italy there are so many festivals and celebrations… the Italians really know how to throw a party!
Italian cities throughout Italy celebrate civil and religious festivals, historical re-enactments, local festivals, and events particularly linked to a city or country. If you love Italy, you already know this.
There are so many unusual events, street fairs, and competitions! There is the Palio di Siena and the Palio della rana in Fermignano. In Ivrea, in northern Italy, oranges are thrown at each other (as is done) to evoke a medieval rivalry between lords and commoners.
In Venice they wear masks, run around and play jokes during the carnival … remember at carnival: every joke is valid (anything goes)! To welcome spring, in Assisi, the whole town dresses up in colorful costumes and parades around the city celebrating Calendimaggio.
I could continue listing sagras and saint celebrations for days! If you were to look at an Italian calendar, you would see that there is a colorful event almost every day in some small town in any corner of the country. Not only are these festivals plentiful, but they are heartily embraced by the locals who dress up in costumes, prepare mountains of food and play music to celebrate everything from pigs, bears, frogs, goats, cheese, flowers, mushrooms, garlic, potatoes, and, or every saint in the bible and beyond. In Italy, even the trees get hitched… not to mention the paying a ceremony that marries boats to the sea.
I have attended many of these “feste” in Italy, including the truffle sagra in Alba and Ferragosto in Locorotondo and Lecce. I’ve carried paper lanterns during the Rificolona festival of the virgin in Florence and eaten my fair share of the roasted pig during the porchetta sagra in San Savino.
I’ve happily danced and eaten my way through many local street fairs and festivals (except the sagra of liver — that one I skipped)… but the one event that stands out above them all, at least for me, is the Giostra del Saracino that occurs in Arezzo twice a year in June and September.
The first time I witnessed the joust in Arezzo I fell in love with it and the city!
All I can say is… you should definitely
experience the Saracen joust in Arezzo
to appreciate and understand it well.
I encourage you to do it! You should dive into the events that happen in Arezzo during the week of the carousel to really understand the soul of Arezzo and what makes the town tick.
Living in Arezzo during the Giostra Saracino
is the most immersive experience
I have ever encountered in Italy.
The Giostra di Arezzo dates back to the Middle Ages. It is a knightly tournament that takes place in Piazza Grande and there is evidence that it already existed at the beginning of the 13th century. In fact, Dante speaks of the carousel in his songs! The joust was born partly as a military exercise for the Crusades, with a target dummy representing the infidel, and partly as a chivalrous game.
Arezzo is usually a quiet hilltop town, but in June and September, it comes alive with friendly neighborhood rivalry, colorful flags, waving banners, and colorful costumes. Each district has distinct colors, and each person who lives in that part of the city proudly wears its colors: Santo Spirito (Blue and Yellow), Porta Sant’Andrea (Green and White), Porta Crucifera (Red and Green), Porta of the Forum (Crimson and Yellow).
A week in advance of the joust, music can be heard thumping through the streets way into the wee hours of the night as each neighborhood celebrates its heroes—the knights who compete for the Lancia d’oro concedendosi.
The excitement in the city increases during the week and reaches a climax the night before the carousel in the neighborhood’s Propitiatory Dinner. Each of the four neighborhoods hosts a large outdoor banquet where grilled food is served. During the dinner, the fans of the neighborhood inspire and encourage their jousters. There are speeches and words of thanks… music and dancing. What’s more, there are songs and chants that spontaneously explode during the meal, and you can’t help but get caught up in the frenzy of joyful and positive emotions.
On the day of the joust, canons are fired to mark the time before the crowd is allowed into Piazza Grande to take their seats to watch the event. The city’s herald rides through the town on horseback, inviting all to take part in the event. Behind him, march colorfully dressed soldiers, and townsfolk representing each of the four neighborhoods, and the noble ancient families of the town. Behind them come the musicians, the drummers, and the flag throwers.
Last but not least are the jousters themselves, all decked out in costume riding their beautiful horses.
To get you up to speed as to what actually happens during Arezzo’s joust… here is the skinny. Each neighborhood has two jousters who train year-round on horseback trying to hit a target with heavy wooden spears. During the actual event held in Piazza Grande, the jousters walk a sloping path called the “lizza” and try to mark the center of the target held in the hand of a swinging dummy at the end of the track. The figurine is called the “buratto” and represents the Saracen intruder that the ancient Aretini trained to reject.
During the competition, the points are accumulated by the jouster when he hits a target divided into nine sections held by the buratto. Still, the outcome of the competition is uncertain until the very last moment of the tournament because of sudden changes in luck that may happen. For instance, if the lance breaks after hitting the Saracen, the score may be doubled, whereas dropping the lance will result in zero points. Points are also lost by a jouster going too slow, or too fast as they risk being whipped by the cat-of-nine-tails that the buratto holds as he swings around on his swiveled perch.
After the joust is over and the winner is declared, the members of the winning neighborhood rush to the top of the Arezzo hill and into the cathedral – San Donato. The jousters also arrive, on their horses, and it is there that the Golden Lance, the much-coveted prize of the day, is given to them. More singing, dancing, and merriment unfold as the winning neighborhood celebrates its victory all night long!
I love Arezzo’s joust so much and
try to attend every year.
Don’t you want to experience Arezzo joust
and fully immerse yourselves in Italian life
and learn the language??
I would like very much to share this incredible experience with you and that is why I have designed my Italian language immersion programs in Arezzo when the joust takes place in June or September. This year I’m going back and you are invited to come with me. To reserve a spot click on the button below.
Let’s get back to learning in Italy.
Let’s get back to the joust! Let’s celebrate together.
By the way, if you want to learn more about the joust, you can read the novel I wrote that is set in Arezzo called: “Waking Isabella.” It’s available on Amazon in print, audio, and ebook. You can read it in English or the Italian version—“Il risveglio di Isabella.”
If you like to see more images of Arezzo’s joust and listen to this post in Italian click on the Youtube Video link below. Transcripts in Italian are available on the Studentessa Matta blog. Just click the button below!