Italians have been throwing good parties since before the Romans perfected the opulent banquet. Every village, town, and city district finds its own reason to celebrate, and with a few millennia of culture, history, and legends to draw on, there are plenty of nation-wide events, too. To help you decide which ones you should really experience, for the current issue of International Living magazine, I’ve put together a list of the five most unusual ones from around the country. You can get a sneak peek of two below…
Medieval Jousting in Le Marche
Head back to the Middle Ages as the splendid city of Ascoli Piceno transforms itself back into the bustling medieval city it once was for La Quintana. It’s a high-energy jousting match that rivals the excitement of Siena’s more famous Palio.
Near the Adriatic coast, about an hour south of Ancona, Ascoli Piceno has been celebrating this festival every August since the 1300s. Locals in resplendent costumes fill the stunning historic center with colorful banners. Events include flag-throwing competitions, accompanied by drums and trumpets.
Armored knights and women in glorious gowns lead the way to the arena for the main event, the Giostra della Quintana. This jousting match pits Ascoli’s six sestieri (districts) against each other, with inhabitants rooting loudly for their neighborhood’s horse and cavalier to win the cherished, hand-painted Palio (a special drape).
The jockey must maneuver his horse on the tight turns of a figure 8-shaped race course, while grasping a long, heavy wooden lance that he uses to pound the target, called “The Moor.”
The Living Chess Game in Veneto
At the base of the Venetian foothills, Marostica is a well-preserved medieval city with heavy stone walls that climb up the hillside. It’s still guarded by two castles, one of which anchors the long, elegant piazza that is outlined by palaces and trimmed with arcades and sidewalk cafés. Marostica is just a few miles from Bassano del Grappa, near the Dolomites.
The marble-paved Piazza del Castello is also known as the Piazza degli Scacchi (Chess Piazza). That’s because, during the second week of September in even-numbered years, it becomes an enormous chess board where the game’s figures are human.
Today’s re-enactment involves teams costumed in black and white, with proper swords and crowns, to designate the chess figures. The town’s imposing stone castle serves as a dramatic backdrop. Trumpets sound out the moves, and fans carry white or black flags to cheer on their team. Concerts, medieval flag-throwing competitions, and spirited fun are part of the party.
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