The Giostra del Saracino is the main folklore event of the city of Arezzo and it takes place in two periods of the year. Piazza Grande becomes the backdrop of the challenge on the next to last Saturday of the month of June (in the evening) and on the first Sunday of the month of September (during the daytime).
The first edition is dedicated to San Donato, patron of the city, which lends it the name Giostra di San Donato; the second is instead known as the Giostra della Madonna del Conforto (Madonna of Comfort), as it is dedicated to Arezzo’s protectress.
The Giostra del Saracino has origins stretching back centuries: the first of these festivals were organized in Medieval times, and they went on to become a characteristic element of the Arezzo territory.
Even Dante Alighieri in Canto XXII of Inferno described the atmosphere: Corridor vidi per la terra vostra, o Aretini, e vidi gir gualdane, fedir torneamenti e correr giostra (Vaunt-couriers have I seen upon your land / O Aretines and foragers go forth / Tournaments stricken, and the joustings run…)
With the exception of a brief interruption during the Second World War, the Giostra del Saracino has taken place regularly each year. Competing for the Lancia d’Oro—a trophy made of walnut, basswood or maple—are the four historic districts of the city: the Quartiere di Porta Crucifera, Quartiere di Porta del Foro, Quartiere di Porta Sant’Andrea and Quartiere di Porta Santo Spirito.
Each neighborhood has two jousters (or “knights”) and has the right to two carriere, which are determined during an “extraction” ceremony on the Sunday preceding the joust at Palazzo Civico.
In each carriera, the jouster grasps a wooden spear. Once the signal is given by the Maestro di Campo, the contender will launch it along the lizza (the strip of beaten earth slantedly crossing Piazza Grande) and then launch it against the Buratto, a metallic puppet, spring-loaded and equipped with a shield in his left hand and armed on the right with a chain mace (the medieval instrument composed of a whip with three chains, the extremities of which hold weighted wooden and leather balls).
Preceding the competition is a historic procession, with a performance by flag throwers accompanied by the sound of the clarions in the festival’s official music group, the Gruppo Musici della Giostra del Saracino.