16 July 2007

Pageantry and a little chaos

La Giostra

The festivities in Ascoli Piceno continued this past weekend for La Quintana with the Saluto Madonna della Pace on Friday and on Saturday night was the first of two La Giostra or joust. The Saluto was a procession of one thousand people in period costume representing each of the sestiere as well as the surrounding castles that were at one time subject to the control of Ascoli Piceno, most of these are now flourishing towns of their own.
This procession began in Piazza Arringo and wound through the streets and Piazza del Popolo to end in Piazza Sant’ Agostino in front of the church of the same name. Once everyone was assembled the horses and their cavalieri rode into the piazza and stood in front of the priest who then blessed them, the Quintana and the city. Then the entire procession reversed the order back to Piazza Arringo.

Saturday night started with a procession through the main piazze and down Corso Emanuele to the stadium where le giostre are held. The streets and piazze were crowded with people to watch the twelve hundred costumed ladies, gentlemen, musicians, archers, men in armor, cavalieri and officials in medieval costume who made up the forty five minute parade. They continued into the stadium and filled the field before the actual la giostra began.

Just before the competition was to begin the lights went out in the stadium plunging everything into pitch black. After about half and hour the lights were all back on and we were ready to start.

La giostre is an oval course with a figure “8” in the middle. The cavalieri must ride around the oval once then into the figure “8” making three passes by the target, which is designed to look like a Moorish character. This is a timed competition and most completed the course in less than one minute. They are also judged on the accuracy of their target hit with their lance. There are three tries and the highest combined score wins.

The night had a bit of excitement and chaos as two of the horses and riders went down on the sharp curves while at full gallop but fortunately no riders or horses were injured. One cavaliero also lost his lance when he hit the target. All of these resulted in zero points for that cavaliero for that turn. One cavaliero also started his turn before given the clear signal from the officials and this resulted in chaos as he was first disqualified and then allowed to retry his turn.

That retry resulted in him having the highest score which brought out members of the other sestiere onto the field in protest. There were people all over the field and at one point there was an announcement that unless the field was cleared the event would be cancelled. Once order was restored la giostre continued and at the end the procession headed back out and along the same course through the centro storico well after 1:00 AM on Sunday morning.

The pageantry of the processions and la giostre with the pounding drums, blaring trumpets, colorful costumes, banners and medieval costumes is something unmatched in anything I have ever seen in America. This is truly an event that you won’t believe until you see and experience it.

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