If you are lucky and you drop in Arezzo the last but one Saturday in June or the first Sunday in September, you can’t miss the Saracen Joust. It is an ancient game of chivalry and its origin dates back to the Middle Ages.
For several days before the joust, the city of Arezzo lives in a cheerful mood, the buildings are totally decorated with the colours of each quarter and you can breathe the atmosphere of ancient times!
The Saracen Joust was born as an exercise for military training. The tournament was regularly held in Arezzo between the 16th century and the end of the 17th century and it was carried on for the whole Modern Age, having an important social function within the urban community. The joust was indeed a great public event during the visit of important authorities in order to show how magnificent Arezzo was.
Yet, the joust disappeared during the 18th century and eventually disappeared and it reappared in 1931, as a form of historical re-enactment, which quickly acquired a competitive character amongst the city quarters, which are listed below:
Porta Crucifera known as Culcitrone (distinguished by green and red colors)
Porta del Foro known as Porta S.Lorentino (distinguished by yellow and crimson colors)
Porta Sant’Andrea (distinguished by white and green colors)
Porta del Borgo, known as Porta Santo Spirito (distinguished by yellow and blue colors).
The jousting day starts in the morning, when the town’s Herald reads the proclamation of the joust challenge, and then continues with a colorful procession of 350 costume characters and 27 horses parading along the streets of Arezzo. For one day, you’ll feel as if you are back to the Middle Ages. The topic moment of the parade is the blessing of the men-at-arms, which takes place on the steps of the Duomo and is given by the Bishop of Arezzo.
The knights’ tournament takes place in Piazza Grande, guided by the “Maestro di Campo” and preceded by the costume characters and the town’s ancient banners entering the square accompanied by the sound of trumpets and drums. All the buildings and old palaces in the square, are adorned with the heralds, representing each city quarter. After a charming performance of flag-wavers, the jousters enter the racing field riding their horses, each knight representing an ancient noble family of Arezzo.
Then, it’s time for the competition. The jousters of the four city quarters gallop their horses with their lances towards the Saracen, an armor-plated dummy representing a Saracen holding a cat-o’-nine-tails in his hand.
Each jouster can make more than one attempt to hit the Saracen and the final result depends on the ability and the courage of the eight jousters (two per each quarter), who have to gallop under the burning sun, wearing very thick typical medieval clothes, trying to get the target with a very long lance. The competition is won by the couple of knights who hit the Saracen’s shield obtaining the higher scores. The quarter associated to the winning knight receives the coveted golden lance. In the event of a draw between two or more quarters after the standard number of charges (two sets of charges for each jouster) the prize is assigned with one or more deciding charges. At the end of the joust, mortar shots will hail the winning quarter.
People from Arezzo take this joust very seriously, as if it’s a matter of life or death, as if the quarters has something to lose. Piazza Grande is packed with people, tickets to attend the Joust are sold out months before the Joust takes place and the support from the bleachers is passionate.
The Joust of the Saracen is such a convivial event, that the days before the Joust people from the same quarters meet up in big halls to eat together, drink some good wine and have fun all together. It is such a cheerful event, that they welcome other people and tourists to take part to the celebrations. Just one warm advice if you decide to go: get ready to take part in a whirlwind of songs, dances and jokes, so don’t go with your evening dress or your Gucci shoes on your feet, because you may be an unaware target of the accidental launch of a red wine glass! But this is the funniest and most characteristic part of the event after all!