The Giostra del Saracino of Arezzo
KEEPING TUSCANY’S TRADITIONS ALIVE
A Traditional Jousting Festival
Like all of Italy, Tuscany is filled with numerous ancient traditions. Each city or village plays host to various colorful rituals, historical pageants, medieval-style tournaments, unique traditional exhibitions, food festivals, and cultural events.
The Giostra del Saracino (Joust of the Saracen) is one of the most important medieval festivals in Italy, held biannually in the Piazza Grande of Arezzo (Tuscany).
This event is held twice a year: Once in June and then in September.
The first edition is held on the second to last Saturday of June in the evening and is dedicated to San Donato, patron saint of the city, which lends it the name Giostra di San Donato.
The second edition takes place on the first Sunday in September during the afternoon and is known as the Giostra della Madonna del Conforto (Madonna of Comfort), as it is dedicated to Arezzo’s protectress.
The setting for the main event of the Giostra del Saracino, takes place in the Piazza Grande, one of the most beautiful squares in Tuscany. This backdrop is the heart of Arezzo and has been the focal point of public life in Arezzo since the ancient times.
Built during the Middle Ages, the piazza was the location for the market, and during the Renaissance it became the center of the city’s civic life.
Dominating one corner is the apse of the 12th century Romanesque Church of Santa Maria della Pieve. At the highest end of the sloping piazza is the impressive 16th century Palazzo delle Logge designed by Giorgio Vasari.
One of the Oldest Traditions Arezzo
The Giostra del Saracino has its origins dating back centuries. In Medieval society, jousts and tournaments were the means to celebrate any special event The oldest recorded information that is known about such a tournament held in Arezzo dates back to 1260, when the inauguration of a knight of a local order was celebrated in the Piazza Grande.
The Joust was later consecrated during the Renaissance and in 1535, the dignitaries of Arezzo decided to hold a jousting tournament on the feast of San Donato. Tournaments were then regularly held between the 16th century and the17th century, after which the tradition declined beginning in the 18th century. Even Dante Alighieri described the tournament in his Inferno!
However, the modern joust as we know it today began in 1931, and was held twice annually with the exception of the time period during World War II.
The Saracen Joust is a competition between the four historic quarters, or “Quartiere”, of Arezzo.
These quartiere are like districts or neighborhoods, each distinguished by the ancient door to the historical center: Porta S. Spirito (yellow and blue colors), Porta S. Andrea (white and green colors), Porta Crucifera (red and green colors) and Porta del Foro (yellow colors) and crimson).
Each neighborhood has two jousters, or “knights” who participate in two rounds. It goes without saying that they must be excellent horsemen with a good aim!
Who is this Saracino?
Jousting was a form of military training and exercises for knights and was supposed to simulate battle. During the time of the Crusades, the Saracens or Moors were the enemy or opponents, thus the knights practiced on an armor-plated wooden effigy representing Buratto, King of the Indies.
The “Buratto” holds a shield which is the target divided into 10 blocks with various scores: the knights’ aim is to hit it without being belted by the “mazzafrusto”, three heavy leather balls on the other Buratto’s hand. Each block corresponds to a certain number of points.
The Day’s Events
Starting with a procession…
The Giostra del Saracino begins early in the day when the town’s Herald reads the proclamation of the joust.
This is followed with a colorful procession of over 350 local people representing the noble families from the four districts, their knights, landlords, infantrymen, foot soldiers and valets all dressed in medieval costume.
They are accompanied by 27 horses, the herald, judges, jury, registrar, and the field steward, along with dozens of trumpeters and drummers, jesters and the popular “Sbandieratori”, or flag throwers – all marching along the streets of Arezzo.
The high point of the parade is the blessing of the knights, which takes place on the steps of the Duomo and is carried out by the Bishop of Arezzo. The procession continues down the main Corso, eventually culminating in the Piazza Grande, where the competition finally begins.
The colors, sounds, and animation create a rich and vibrant atmosphere deeply rooted in tradition.
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