Saturday, July 21, 2007

Men in Tights and Armored Knights

A little note to acknowledge that I'm a bit behind in posting these exciting events to the blog. The Quintana turned into a "never-before" spectacle this year...details will be posted in the next installment.

Men in Tights and Armored Knights
The steady, persistent pounding of the drumbeats beckoned us from our house. Closer and louder, we knew we had to hurry. Down the two flights of stairs we raced to catch the knights and their noble entourage marching in serious concentration to the ever-rhythmic drum. Down the hill they went to slowly strut into the civic square, Piazza Arringo. Our sestiere’s representatives for La Giostra made a distinctive entry.

One by one, the other five sestiere joined them, rounding together before the official Quintana band and the Magnifico Messiere (the role is fulfilled by the mayor) and his councilors led them all through the streets of the centro storico to the small Piazza Sant’Agostino, where they assembled in the shadow of the medieval landmark, the Twin Towers.

The piazza takes its name from the Romanesque church of the same name and on the steps awaited the Monsignor, who prayed for the cavalieri, their horses, the comune and proclaimed the power bestowed upon the fair city by the church’s important Madonna della Pace. The painting, said to broker peace even in times of distress, was reverently brought forth as the cavalieri held their hats forward and bowed. The horses were given a benediction along with a sprinkling of holy water.

One sestiere at a time, they departed as they came. Drum beats calling out the steps, each man marching in time with solemn faces. They paused in the Piazza del Popolo as the beautiful, vibrant Palio was interred within the Palazzo dei Capitani, awaiting to be awarded to the winner of the Giostra.

The following day the assembly gathered in another piazza, this time growing exponentially in size as the courts and damas and their attendants, all in sumptuous costume, made a spectacular sight striding through town to the Squarcia, the stadium where the jousting match, La Giostra della Quintana, was held. Not to be snarfed at, this parade held nigh 1200 participants all wearing velvet, brocade, and woolen tights. Men in tights, people! Knights in *actual* armor! Women in glorious gowns! It’s a step back to the Middle Ages when the noble families and their courtiers along with the valiant cavaliers who defended the city amassed before the common folk to show their power, prestige, skill and beauty. Today, the beauty and skill part are still evident remainders of the tradition. Whether the figuranti hold power and prestige, being a foreigner I am not too sure. The entire assembly arrayed themselves in the middle of the field awaiting all of the participants to make their circle of the stadium and then gather together. They completely filled the center portion of the stadium, a resplendent gathering of rich fabrics, elaborate head-dresses, and colorful flags. The drumbeats continued unabated throughout the entire scene.

The joust utilizes a unique figure 8-shaped track; in the middle is a target called the Saracen or the Moor. No, political correctness hasn’t invaded medieval traditions. The cavalieri must ride the horse around the track, enter the figure 8 and skillfully maneuver the horse on the tight turns while holding on tight to a long, heavy wooden lance that he uses to pound the target. All at full speed, I might add. Exciting stuff being played out before thousands of spectators, all of whom have strong affiliation with their sestieri or their parents’ sestieri, screaming in favor of their cavalier and jeering at the others.

Next up…La Giostra and the Aftermath.
2007 Valerie Schneider

No comments: