Giostra del Saracino, Arezzo

More pageantry than Monty Python

Oonagh Stransky
July 18, 2016 - 9:58

Take out your corsets, doublets, pantaloons and gowns. Don your jester hat. Get ready for the Arezzo Saracen joust: the most riveting historical sporting event to celebrate horses, men in tights, pageantry and general bedlam since Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

 

The charge of the Porta del Foro knight The charge of the Porta del Foro knight

 

Since the 1300s Arezzo has offered its citizens two jousts per year: one on the penultimate Saturday of June and the second on the first Sunday of September. This year, in honor of the Holy Year of Mercy, the city decided to offer a third joust slated for August 26.

 

This means that in August and September there will be numerous opportunities for visitors to Arezzo to experience the medieval revelry and costumed ceremonies affiliated with this historic competition.

 

Although Dante referred to Aretines as “snarling mongrels,” it must be said in their defense that they do know how to throw a party. Ten days before each joust (so, basically after Ferragosto onwards) the four main neighborhoods of the city offer propitiatory celebrations, each one trying to outdo the other with grigliate, themed parties, pizza, DJ sets and activities for all ages.

 

Less dangerous for horse and rider than Siena, but with just as much history and fanfare, the Arezzo joust should not be missed. If you can’t make it to the actual sporting event, or prefer something a little less rowdy, check out the calendar below for ceremonial events connected to the joust.

 

 

History

 

Flag throwers at work in Arezzo Flag throwers at work in Arezzo

 

Some say the joust began as far back as 1200, we know it was practiced in the 1400s, but the oldest written document that attests to it dates to August 6, 1535, when the priors of the city voted (26 black stones to 3 white ones) that the Joust against the Saracen should take place on Sundays and that the prize should be one arm (0.3364 sq. meters) of purple satin. Part military training for the Crusades—the Saracen dummy represents the infidel—part chivalric game, the joust was interrupted only twice, once in the early 1800s (but it came back with a vengeance thanks to Romanticism) and during WWII.

 

 

Rules

 

The town's infantry, Arezzo The town's infantry, Arezzo

 

The oldest rulebook dates back to 1677 and not much has changed since.

The city (and its suburbs) is divided into four neighborhood quarters, each of which correspond to one of the main gates, and each with their own flag, colors, and symbols linked to old noble families of the neighborhood.

Porta Crucifera - red and green

Porta del Foro - yellow and crimson

Porta S. Andrea - white and green

Porta S.Spirito - yellow and blue

Altogether, the joust is made up of 350 participants, a number that includes the jousters, footmen, musicians, valets, flag jugglers, knights, and lords and ladies.  

Each neighborhood selects two main jousters.

Each jouster rides twice.

The jouster gallops his horse up the track, across piazza Grande and charges the Saracen dummy with his lance. The dummy holds a shield that is divided into sections, each area worth a certain number of points from 1 to 5. The dummy also holds a cat o’nine tails whip. When the jouster’s lance strikes the shield, the dummy spins around and the lead balls on the whip strike out at the rider. Depending where the jouster strikes, the team earns a certain number of points. If there’s a tie, those jousters charge again.

The outcome of the battle between knight and “infidel” is uncertain until the very end. Dramatic events can influence the score. For instance, jousters may be disqualified if they accidentally ride off the track or their scores may be doubled if their lance breaks after hitting the Saracen. The winning neighborhood is awarded the golden lance. Mortar shots are fired at the end of the joust to hail the winning team.

 

 

Joust-related events in August and September

 

The warriors of Porta Sant'Andrea The warriors of Porta Sant'Andrea

 

Saturday 6 in the Duomo at 9:30pm: Offering of a candle to S. Donato, patron saint of Arezzo

Saturday 20 in piazza del Comune at 9pm: Ceremony to decide order of play and swearing of the Captains

From Sunday 21 to Wednesday 24 in piazza Grande, 8:15–11:30pm: Practice for both reserve riders and team riders

Thursday 25 in Piazza Grande, 6–7pm: Practice for team riders and Marking of the horses

Thursday 25 in Piazza Grande, from 9pm: Full joust rehearsal; Practice for reserve and team riders

Friday 26 in the piazzas of the four quarters of the city, from 9pm: Propitiatory dinner with singing

Saturday 27: 132nd Giostra del Saracino

Monday 29–Wednesday 31 in piazza Grande, 4:45–7:30pm: Practice for young riders and team riders

Thursday 1 September in piazza Grande, 4:15–7:30pm: Practice for both reserve riders and team riders

Friday 2 September in piazza Grande, 5–9pm: Practice for team riders

Friday 2 September in piazza Grande, from 9:30pm: Full joust rehearsal

Saturday 3 September in piazza S. Francesco, from 11:30pm: Marking of the horses and swearing of jousters

In the neighborhoods of the Quartieri, from 9:30pm: Propitiatory dinners

Sunday 4 September (first Sunday of the month): 133rd Giostra del Saracino

 

 

The day of the joust

 

The effigy of the joust The effigy of the joust

 

The day of the joust begins at 7am with the firing of a cannon, which is repeated throughout the day.

The Town Herald proclaims the challenge.

A long procession of 350 people in costume and 27 horses wend through the medieval streets of Arezzo.

The bishop of Arezzo blesses the jousters on the steps of the Duomo.

The procession enters piazza Grande with much fanfare and trumpeting.

There is a performance of flag-wavers.

The jousters gallop onto the track.

The Herald reads “The Challenge”, a poetic composition written in octaves in the 17th century.

The crossbowmen and soldiers greet the crowd, shoot their arrows into the air, as the crowd shouts “Arezzo”.

The magistrates proclaim the beginning of the joust.

The joust musicians playing the Saracen Hymn, composed by Giuseppe Pietri.

The competition begins.

 

 

Essential information

Ticket costs for the official joust

From 20 to 100 euro, depending on seat location

Standing: 6 euro

 

Ticket costs for practice event

5 euro for seats and 2 euro for standing

For more information: Tel. 0575/377461-2-3

giostradelsaracino@comune.arezzo.it – turismo@comune.arezzo.it

www.giostradelsaracinoarezzo.it

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