Monday, 5 September 2016

Joust of the Saracen in Arezzo

If it's Sunday it must be Festa day! 
Today we went by train from Castiglione del Lago to Arezzo for the Festival of the Joust of the Saracen. The joust is an ancient game of chivalry and has been held in Arezzo since the 16th century. In its modern form it has been happening since 1931 and now has a great competitiveness between the Quartieri.
The festival runs for ten days (as most festivals do) and the Sunday is the culmination of the celebrations. Today's programme started in the morning but we planned to arrive just before 2pm as the programme was continuous from then on.

At 2 o'clock the elaborately costumed men and their horses from each quartiere gathered at their churches for the Blessing of the Jousters. We arrived in front of San Agostino church as the procession of the Porta di Sant Andrea quartiere arrived. Trumpeters and drummers led the men-at-arms and the jousters and their mounts. The church bell rang out then the priest prayed for safe competition and blessed both the riders and the horses with holy water. They then marched off to the meeting point for the next stage of proceedings.

All four quartieri met at the top of the city (Arezzo is built on a hill) in preparation for processing to the Cathedral. 

The procession was a colourful event and unlike any others we have seen as it was purely defence. There were only a few women representing the noble families, otherwise it was a 16th century military parade.As the 350 strong group gathered in front of the Cathedral steps, the Bishop of Arezzo blessed the Men-at-Arms.

At 3.30pm the Parade set off covering all four quartieri of the city and following a lengthy route. It was hot and many of the men looked near exhaustion as they passed our viewing point in via Cavour. Trailing the lengthy procession was an ambulance and a cleaning vehicle picking up after the horses.

The destination was Piazza Grande where the Joust takes place, but first there were more formalities. It is necessary to have pre purchased tickets to get into the grandstand and we didn't have these so I am reporting here from the programme. The trumpets and drums welcome the parade, there is a flag waving demonstration, the legalities of the competition are announced, the horses presented, the Challenge of Buratto is read, the Men-at-Arms are greeted and the Saracen Hymn is sung. 
Then the competition begins.

The Buratto is a large model Saracen or Moor who has a shield in one hand and a scourge with three balls on the end in the other. The knight must ride his horse at speed and aim his lance at the shield. Where he hits the shield determines his score. If however the Buratto should hit the knight he will get very bruised and lose points. Each quartiere has two knights competing.
This photo was obtained on-line, acknowledging photographer Maurizio degli Innocenti.

The  quartieri with the highest score wins the prize, the Golden Lance.

In trying to find a small spot where we might enter the piazza we came to a market so decided this would be our lot. It was actually the hugest antique market imaginable, a feature for which Arezzo is noted and which happens once a month. This was genuine antiques, not junk. There was everything from large furniture to spectacular light fittings, embroidered linens to china, church fixtures to wall panels from old villas, tools and jewellery. Such a lot of lovely old 'stuff.' 

Walking back to the station, past the gelateria, of course, we noticed that many of the bars had a direct telecast of the competition on televisions strategically positioned at the front of their shops. The crowds were gathered with drinks, eagerly watching how their quartiere was performing against the other quartieri and the Saracen.

We had an excellent day and agreed that after all the parades that we have seen this one is unique. The amazing thing about these festivals is that you get all this wonderful entertainment for free. There is often a charge for seating at  the final competition ( the joust, the archery, the barrel rolling) but this is at the end of a big day so we never feel we have missed out by not attending. This part is really more important for the highly competitive locals anyway.

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