The main square of the Tuscan town of Arezzo transforms into a jousting track when the bi-annual Joust of the Saracen - (a medieval term for the 'infidels' the Crusades sought to convert) takes place. The "primary" joust is in June, with the main event the first weekend in September.
Like the heart of American football season, every cobbled street here is festooned with flags bearing the rich colors and crest of one of the four competing town quadrants.
And, having just moved here, we had to get into the action. Our three year old daughter, Lulu, decided she liked the Porta San Spirito colors of blue and gold the best.
So, she picked out a matching toy trumpet from the street vendors who set up tables everywhere selling silk scarves, toy drums, trumpets and other noise makers all with corresponding team colors.
The practice sessions that this photo is taken from were free, while tickets for the actual joust event started at 50 Euro - so we thought we'd save up for next year!
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La Carta's "Notte delle Lanterne"
You'll revel at Rapunzel's dazzling birthday party (if you haven't seen Disney's "Tangled" take on the Rapunzel story, I highly recommend it) every time La Carta decides to host a "Notte delle Lanterne," Night of Lanterns" here in Arezzo. The first evening after we moved here two years ago, my husband and I were sitting outside our new home sharing a bottle of wine, looking across the vineyards up to the bell-tower of our new town. Suddenly, hundreds of lights, like giant fireflies, began floating above the tower. It was breath-taking and I took it as a sign we had made a good decision to move to Italy and to this exact Tuscan town. Only much later did I learn the floating fireflies were, in fact, paper lanterns you light on the inside, let fill with hot air and safely release. Andrea, the generous owner of "La Carta," the best party shop in town in my opinion, sells them for birthdays, weddings, whatever. Periodically - a couple times in the summer and again in the fall - he holds the special "notte" gathering in Arezzo's Piazza Grande, or grand plaza. Hundreds of people turn out to buy a lantern from Andrea for 5 Euro - and dance and party until the appointed time. Then - with Andrea counting down - we collectively light our lanterns and a multitude of flickering stars ascends into the Tuscan sky. As if Under the Tuscan Sun weren't enough!
Every June and September, Arezzo steps back into time to celebrate the Middle Ages when knights of the Crusades dashed off to vanquish the Saracini, also known as Infidels or Saracens.
Tournaments were held frequently between the 16th and 17th and now, since 1931, the competition is a regular event that evokes powerful rivalries among residents and visitors alike as four neighborhood teams, or quartieri, aim to win the coveted Lancia d’Oro.
Each neighborhood enters two knights who take one turn riding a horse at full gallop with their lance pointed toward an enormous wooden mannequin named “Buratto, King of the Indies.”
Buratto is mounted on a post that swivels. He’s wound up tight and holds three leather balls hanging from chains in his outstretched right hand and the score shield in his left.
The knights must hit the center while at the same time avoid being walloped by Buratto’s menacing weapons when he forcefully spins on impact.
Arezzo’s Giostra del Saracino is one of the lesser known festivals in Tuscany, but so filled with pomp and circumstance, it suspends time and bridges eras. Boisterous celebrations spread out of the Piazza to the town’s duomo where people congregate to greet the arriving victorious team and horses.
It’s quite something to be inside an ancient Gothic cathedral filled wit bright electric lights and smiling and screaming sports fans. It's more like a rock concert than a prayerful service.