Lances raised, Italian town prepares to joust

Fri Jul 29, 2011 4:33pm EDT
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By Alastair Macdonald

SULMONA, Italy (Reuters) - It is time for the butcher to polish up his battle-axe and the schoolmistress to stitch fresh silks on her noblewoman's gown as the hired horseman hones his lance and primes his mount for combat.

Jousting season in Sulmona, and the people of this ancient town, nestled in Italy's central mountains, are making fevered preparations for the biggest festival of their year, when Renaissance pageantry and feasting set the tone for local rivalries fought out in knightly contests on the main square.

The piazza, a natural hippodrome of tall, stone buildings with the high peaks of the Abruzzi soaring up behind, has been laid with hundreds of tonnes of sand and planted with greenery to mark out a track round which 'cavaliere' -- the knights -- will race with lances raised at breakneck speeds.

As important for the Sulmonese is the pageantry surrounding the joust, the Giostra Cavallaresca, which begins on Saturday; months of hard work behind the scenes in sewing elaborate 16th-century costumes and rehearsing bands of trumpeters and drummers finally see the light of day in parades and banquets.

"Hundreds of people, all over the town, have been cooking and sewing and practicing. We're dead tired, been up till 3 in the morning stitching beautiful robes," said pensioner Tilde Carugno, whose routine goes into overdrive for jousting season.

"It's worth it, though. We live the Giostra in our hearts."

Festivities are marked by intense though, mostly, good-humored rivalry among the seven districts into which the town is divided for the Giostra, an event which traces its heritage to the city's mediaeval heyday, was codified in Sulmona in 1583 and resurrected in 1995 to bolster both tourism and civic pride.

Much of Sulmona's 25,000 population turns out to watch.   Continued...

<p>A knight fights using his lance during a medieval joust in Sulmona, an ancient town in central Italy July 29, 2011. REUTERS/Giostra Cavalleresca di Sulmona/Handout</p>