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Medieval festivals in Tuscany

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Medieval festivals in Tuscany: where and when

Tuscany is a land of ancient villages, castles, legends, battles and knights, which are celebrated every year during numerous medieval festivals. Starting in March, and continuing until autumn, there are many interesting historical events and re-enactments to learn about customs and traditions that are born in the mists of time, while maintaining their evocative charm.

Medieval festivals in Tuscany take place in all the cities of art that were great protagonists in the Middle Ages. Even today these cities, as well as many other Tuscan hamlets, compete for who has the most beautiful party, the most faithful costumes, the most suggestive events. An excellent opportunity to get to know Tuscany better than yesterday and today.

Medieval festivals in and around Florence

Capodanno Fiorentino

The celebrations of the Capodanno Fiorentino (Florentine New Year) see the Bandierai degli Uffizi as protagonists, staging an important scenographic re-enactment. An exciting show, characterized by a precise historical significance and a very faithful and accurate reconstruction. Leading the procession made up of various historical groups from Tuscany, are the Corteo Storico della Repubblica Fiorentina and the Bandierai degli Uffizi. The procession starts from the Palagio di Parte Guelfa and heads towards the Basilica of the Santissima Annunziata.

Since ancient times, the Catholic Church has celebrated the Annunciation, or the announcement of the conception of Jesus made to the Virgin Mary by the Archangel Gabriel. The anniversary was set on March 25, that is nine months before Christmas, the day of Jesus’ birth. Florence decided to set the beginning of the calendar year on March 25, thus linking its New Year to the Annunciation, according to a system of calculation of the days of the year defined “Style of the Incarnation”. Starting from 1582 the Gregorian calendar came into force throughout Italy, according to which the beginning of the year is set for January 1st, but Florence kept the date of March 25th until 1750 when Leopoldo II of Lorraine imposed the transition to the Gregorian calendar.

Scoppio del Carro

The Scoppio del Carro in Florence takes place on the Sunday morning of Easter. The appointment is pyrotechnic, traditional, spectacular. The ceremony of the bursting of the chariot has been known and practiced since the time of the first crusade. The celebration begins at 11 am, but for those wishing to see the show live, the advice is to be in Piazza Duomo at least an hour before, especially if you want to take a good place to take pictures.

According to tradition, it was Pazzino De’ Pazzi who was the first to climb the walls of Jerusalem, receiving as a gift three splinters of the Holy Sepulcher for the courage shown. Taking up a custom of the Crusaders, the young people of the Florentine families, every Holy Saturday, went to the cathedral to light a small torch: then they went out in procession to carry the flame to every home.

Over time, the celebration was organized, up to the current pyrotechnic float (affectionately called the Brindellone, due to its macroscopic size). The ceremony foresees that a dove travels the way from the altar of the Cathedral to the chariot and back. According to tradition, the outcome of the flight of the dove announces whether the coming year will be good or not.

Scoppio del Carro in Florence

Calcio Storico Fiorentino

The Calcio storico Fiorentino has ancient origins and is one of the most rooted and symbolic traditions of the city. Also known as “calcio in costume” (football in costume), this game was played daily by Florentine youth, but over time it became important for the organization of some matches played by noble citizens in the most important squares of the city. The last official competition took place in January 1739, and then resumed in May 1930, the fourth centenary of the siege of Florence. Since then, every year challenges have been held between the footballers of the four historic districts of Florence: the Bianchi of Santo Spirito, the Azzurri of Santa Croce, the Rossi of Santa Maria Novella, and the Verdi of San Giovanni. The tournament takes place in June with the final set for June 24, the day of San Giovanni, patron saint of Florence.

Calcio Storico Fiorentino
Calcio Storico Fiorentino (Photo by Lorenzo Noccioli / CC BY)

Medieval Festival of Malmantile

The Medieval Festival of Malmantile (Municipality of Lastra a Signa) is one of the most popular events of its kind in the Province of Florence and generally takes place between the end of May and the beginning of June. The small town on the hills of Lastra a Signa undergoes a real metamorphosis in the days of the festival. The village, still protected by solid walls, returns to relive its past with dozens of figures in period costumes that offer a very varied insight into life in the Middle Ages. A perfect reconstruction with ladies and knights, archers and heralds, armigers and poets. Artists, artisans, acrobats and jugglers give life to shows, dances, duels and demonstrations of ancient crafts.

Medieval festivals in Arezzo and its surroundings

Giostra del Saracino

The Giostra del Saracino in Arezzo is, together with the Calcio Storico Fiorentino and the Palio di Siena, one of the best known traditional festivals in Tuscany. The event has its roots in the Middle Ages and represents the evolution of a military training exercise. Two knights for each district of the city (Porta Crucifera, Porta del Foro, Porta S. Andrea, Porta Santo Spirito) armed with spears have to face an automaton with the appearance of a Saracen. The event includes a full calendar of events for the entire week preceding the Joust and took place on two dates between June and September.

Arezzo Giostra del Saracino
Giostra del Saracino (Photo by Jan Drewes / CC BY)

Battaglia di Scannagallo

The Battaglia di Scannagallo (Battle of Scannagallo) in Pozzo della Chiana (Municipality of Foiano della Chiana) is a historical re-enactment of the memorable victory of the Florentines over the Sienese which led to the surrender of Siena. The battle took place in 1554 so we are just outside the conventional term of 1492, but it is a well done re-enactment of a really important event in the history of Tuscany. Every year, between the end of May and the beginning of June, all the various phases of the battle are reconstructed, from the preparation of the military camp to the attack.

Medieval festivals in Siena and its surroundings

Palio di Siena

The Palio di Siena represents one of the tangible manifestations of parochialism, belonging and attachment to the most prestigious traditions in the world. The Palio is not an event exhumed and organized for tourism purposes: it is the life of the Sienese people over time and in its various aspects and feelings. It has remote origins with some regulations still valid today from 1644, the year in which the first palio with horses was run, as it still happens, in continuity never interrupted.

The territory of the city is divided into seventeen Contrade with borders established in 1729 by the Bando of Violante of Bavaria, Governor of the City. The Palio is a centuries-old celebration in which all the Sienese people spontaneously participate without therefore there being the need for an official organization for the coordination of the various services.

For this reason, even the sale of seats in the stands, on the balconies and at the windows, is carried out individually by the respective owners who often have the shops that overlook the Piazza del Campo or the houses in the adjacent streets. Access to the stands is allowed as long as the traffic police have not cleared the public from the track, after which it is exceptionally granted by the police authorities, which carry out the security service, to allow spectators to pass through special passages, particularly narrow. latecomers in possession of a regular booking ticket.

The appointment with the Palio di Siena is for 2 July and 16 August.

The Palio di Siena the race
Palio di Siena

Medieval Festival of Monteriggioni

Monteriggioni is one of the most beautiful and best preserved fortified villages in Tuscany and certainly could not fail to organize its own medieval festival! The Medieval Festival of Monteriggioni which usually takes place between June and July, is a real thing in the past. Among artisans committed to making ceramics and other artifacts, blacksmiths intent on making weapons and armor, knights, ladies and many other historical characters, you will feel like you have really returned to the Middle Ages also because the location is truly spectacular!

Palio di Torrita di Siena

The Palio di Torrita di Siena is a festival to celebrate St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. Unlike the Palio of Siena, that of Torrita is not run on horseback but on donkey! The program is very full of events and develops over several days. It starts with the medieval market of Nencia, the historical re-enactment, the draw of the parade order of the Contrade and the opening of the taverns with large banquets and traveling shows. These days the historic center is animated by various initiatives with shows every evening until the Palio race with which the festivities end.

Festa della Ciambragina

Another medieval festival near Siena is the Festa della Ciambragina in Serre di Rapolano, which usually takes place in the first two weeks of May. An appointment with a rich calendar of events and exhibitions. The name of the festival is linked to the story of Giovanni de’ Rossi, a rich Sienese merchant of the 1300s, who married a beautiful girl he met in Cambrai during one of his numerous commercial trips to France. Back in Siena, the girl was nicknamed Ciambragina or the woman of Cambrai. Shortly afterwards Giovanni de ‘Rossi bought the Cacciaconti castle who until then had dominated the fiefdom of Serre di Rapolano so, on the death of her husband a few years later, Ciambragina became the lady of Serre.

Giostra del Saracino di Sarteano

Sarteano also has its own Giostra del Saracino which has been held since at least the sixteenth century. It is an ancient tradition, a spectacular knightly tournament in which five knights (the “giostratori”) compete to represent the five Contrade of Sarteano. Each knight must insert with his lance a small ring placed on the shield of a puppet representing the Saracen. The winner wins the coveted prize at the end of five heats (the “carriere”); in the event of a tie, there will be an indefinite play-offs. The Giostra del Saracino di Sarteano takes place on August 15th of each year.

Medieval festivals in Pisa

Capodanno Pisano

As in Florence, also in Pisa on March 25 the New Year is celebrated as it was until 1749. The celebration is preceded by 4 days of celebration (starting from March 22), with a series of events, religious ceremonies, historical parades . The beginning of the Pisan year is very fascinating. At 11 am a historical procession of the Delegations of the Maritime Republics and a religious mass that marks the New Year precede the actual event marked by an evocative sundial: at noon on March 25 a ray of sunshine penetrates the Cathedral from the central nave and strikes a shelf next to the pulpit by Giovanni Pisano.

Gioco del Ponte

The Gioco del Ponte in Pisa takes place on the evening of the last Saturday in June: the historical re-enactment event is divided into two distinct but equally significant moments: the Historical Parade on the Lungarni with its 709 figures and the battle, set on the Ponte di Mezzo , where the teams of the Neighborhoods belonging to the two rival city factions demonstrate their respective physical power, in a truly compelling atmosphere.

The first known edition of the game is dated February 22, 1568. The bridge, site of the battle, was the historic Ponte Vecchio (now Ponte di Mezzo) and the purpose of the battle was the conquest of part or all of the half occupied by the opposing faction (Tramontana and Mezzogiorno). Known for its violence, the game was suspended in 1785 and resumed in 1935 (modified). The two teams, 50 or 60 players on each side, now push a cart to avoid direct confrontation.

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