Thursday, 30 May 2013

Flag throwing in Tuscany, who gives a toss?

I wrote the title of this post like that just to get your attention! Today I want to say something about not just flag throwing or flag tossing in Tuscany but more generally about the great costume festivals that we have in this part of Tuscany. Annual festivals, related either to the season or to religious holidays and local saints' days, have always played an important part in Tuscan social life, going right back to pagan times. Indeed, the foundations of many of the Christian festivals, like those of a number of Christian churches, date from Roman times or earlier.

Flag throwing in Tuscany
Flag thrower at a costume festival in Tuscany
These costume festivals have enjoyed a considerable revival over the past 40 years and annual re-enactments of famous events in local history have similarly become very popular. These events, usually mediaeval in character, have become increasingly skilled and sophisticated in their presentation to the point where they not only occupy the attention of the local population but have become major attractions for a wider audience.

Giostra dell'Archidado in Cortona
Giostra dell'Archidado in Cortona

Nearest to home and during June, we have the famous festival known as the Giostra dell'Archidado (crossbow tournament) in Cortona. This competition commemorates the wedding of Francesco Casali, Lord of Cortona, and the noblewoman Antonia Salimbeni of Sienna, which took place in 1397. In addition to the crossbow competition itself, there's an excellent costume parade and usually a flag throwing exhibition (which featured in the film version of Frances Mayes' book "Under the Tuscan Sun"). This year, the Giostra dell'Archidado takes place on 9 June but there are celebrations on the 1, 2, 7 and 8 June as well.

Giostra del Saracino (Joust of the Saracen) at Arezzo
Giostra del Saracino (Joust of the Saracen) at Arezzo
A very colourful festival tales place in Arezzo at night on the last but one Saturday of June, and during the day and on the first Sunday of September. This is the famous Giostra del Saracino (Joust of the Saracen), a jousting tournament that has its origins in the early 16th century and commemorates Christian efforts to hold back the Moslem tide in the 14th Century. In the main event, eight costumed knights charge towards a wooden representation of the Saracen, aiming to hit the Saracen's shield with lances. The Saracen is mounted on a swivel so that part of the task of the knight is to avoid being struck back as the Saracen spins round from the force of the blow. The format of the tournament reflects its origins as a military training exercise.

La Maggiolata at Lucignana
One of the four floats of La Maggiolata at Lucignana

La Maggiolata is a flower festival that takes place during the last two Sundays and the preceding Saturday nights of May in Lucignano, a charming village in the Val di Chiana. Four allegorical floats, one for each quarter of the village, are pulled through the town. Between 15,000 - 20,000 flowers are used for each float and the floats are judged at the end of the Maggiolata. The victors are the first to sing and dance. Some of the parade costumes are 12th and 13th century in style while others are traditional European folkloric costumes, especially those of the dancers.

Giostra dei Bastoni San Gimignano
Giostra dei Bastoni at San Gimignano in June
Another good example coming up in June is the harvest festival called the Ferie delle Messi with its Giostra dei Bastoni (literally, "stick joust") at San Gimignano, about two hours drive from Borgo di Vagli. The event takes place on the third Saturday and Sunday of June, the highlight on the Sunday being the Grand Procession when more than two hundred citizens of San Gimignano parade in mediaeval costume from the middle of town to the Rocca di Montestaffoli to watch the Giostra dei Bastoni. There are plenty of food stands and other attractions throughout the festival.

In summary, mediaeval and Renaissance costume festivals take place throughout the year in Tuscany, including several within easy reach of Borgo di Vagli. Many of these events are extremely exciting and colourful, and should not be missed if you have the chance to attend.

More about Festivals and other events in Tuscany.

Borgo di Vagli restored mediaeval hamlet in Tuscany
Borgo di Vagli has been authentically restored as a Tuscan vacation hamlet. The residences can be bought in the form of fractional ownerships, making a holiday home in Tuscany possible at modest cost.

Fulvio Di Rosa
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