AREZZO:IL SARACINO, the first Sunday of September
Arezzo. “La Giostra del Saraceno” Il Saracino.
Third Sunday of June and First Sunday of September
The wonderful and highly interesting historical town of Arezzo houses twice a year a knight’s tournament, which probably is the most renowned one in the world.
The tournament competition is called “La Giostra del Saraceno” (Joust of the Saracen) and is always held in the night of the third Sunday of June, the so-called “San Donato’s Joust”, which is devoted to the saint patron of the town, and in the afternoon of the first Sunday of September, therefore known as “September Joust”.
That fabulous tradition in the town comes back from the 16th century, though it is known that a similar tournament was represented in Arezzo since the 14th century to commemorate the bravery of the European soldiers who fought against the expansion attempts at those times of the Muslims and of the Saracen pirates, who razed numerous towns as in Italy as abroad.
The game was born as a military training exercise, becoming later a remarkable joust, represented in baroque style, which was also played during the main events in the town, in occasion of the visits of members of the royalty, in the weddings and feasts of the noble families, etc.
The rules of the Joust were first published in 1677, having basically remained unchanged.
Nowadays, the “Giostra del Saraceno” is organized by the Municipality of Arezzo and is held in the amazing Piazza Grande.
The solemn ceremonies preceding the tournament start in the morning: the Herald of the Municipality reads the “Proclamation of the Joust Challenge” and then a magnificent parade marching along the ancient and most beautiful streets of the town starts. The parade is formed by 350 participants dressed in costume, including soldiers, crossbowmen, musicians, flag-weavers, knights and 27 horses richly harnessed, all accompanied by the sound of trumpets and drums.
The most important moment is the blessing of the men-at-arms, which is given by the Bishop of Arezzo on the steps of the Cathedral.
When the parade reaches Piazza Grande, an expecting crowd is waiting for its entering, which is preceded by the “Maestro di Campo” and the higher authorities of the Joust, who are followed by the flag-weavers performance; by the crossbowmen and the soldiers greeting the people, all of them shouting in unison: Arezzo!; by the horsemen arrangement on the jousting track; by the Herald reading a poetic composition from the 17th century, known as the “Challenge of Buratto”, and finally, by the magistrates authorization to run the Joust, which is followed by the musicians playing of the “Saracen Hymn”, composed by Giuseppe Pietri in 1932. Then the Joust starts!
The protagonists of the Joust are the four quarters of Arezzo, represented by two horsemen or knights for each quarter: Porta Crucifera (green and red colours); Porta del Foro (yellow and crimson colours); Porta Sant’Andrea (white and green colours) and Porta Santo Spirito (yellow and blue colours).
The horsemen of the four quarters gallop their horses with a lance against the “Buratto” (“Saracen”), which is huge mannequin representing a Saracen holding a heavy whip with lead and leather balls in its right hand and a hard round shield in the left one. Once the “Saracen” is hit by the lance it starts rotating, threatening the knight with its impressing whip.
You can never foresee what the result of the tournament will be. It mainly depends on the ability, the bravery, and the good-luck of the knights, who alternate themselves on the “lizza” (the jousting track) running across Piazza Grande.
The Joust is won by the couple of horsemen who have obtained the higher scores hitting the “Saracen” shield. The scores range goes from 1 to 5. The quarter to which the winner pertains is awarded by the traditional golden lance.
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