Beyond festivals (sagre) focused on food, in Italy during the summer, tourists and locals can enjoy other kind of festival, namely those devoted to reenacting the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods. In June or July, in Tuscany one can find this kind of celebration in many historical towns, such as San Gimignano, Colle di Val d'Elsa, or Monteriggioni. For instance, sometimes, participating requires one to exchange money from Euros into fiorini (florins) to pay for the food, activities, or merchandise on offer.
On June 16, my husband, my daughter, and I visited San Gimignano, the tower city, to attend some events organized by the Cavalieri di Santa Fina (Santa Fina's Knights) during an event called Ferie delle Messi (Fair of the Harvests), celebrated in the Middle Age by the local population through dances, songs, games, and mock battles. The Association "I Cavalieri di Santa Fina" was born in 1993 with the goal of reenacting certain ancient medieval events within the city of San Gimignano. The name commemorates Fina dei Ciardi, a young girl who died on March 12, 1253, having lived a life of near sainthood.
Referring to old documents from the XIII century documenting the participation of the knights from San Gimignano at the battles of Montaperti (1260) and Campaldino (1289), which were cited by Dante Alighieri in his Divine Comedy, the present group of knights wanted to revitalize some aspects of this chivalrous tradition. To aid in this, they also resumed the delineation of the four contrade (city quarters) of San Giovanni, Piazza, Castello, and San Matteo. During the
Renaissance reenactment in Colle di Val d’Elsa.
Chiara De Santi (second from left) with friend Silvia and two young girls dressed in Renaissance garb.
weekend of June 15 through 17, one can view events such as the setting up of a military camp, a medieval market, a tug-of-war between the champions of the four contrade, the contest of the braiding of the hair between the ladies of the contrade, displays of medieval art and crafts, the rite of purification, flags in the sky, the Corteo delle messi (the parade of harvests), the Giostra dei Bastoni (the horse race of swords), and the golden sword.
When we went on Saturday evening, we attended the Medieval displays in the Piazza Duomo (Cathedral Square). We were able to see medieval dances performed by local women in period dresses (Dance Ensemble Medioevo in Danza), a group of flag bearers (much like color guard) from the city of L'Aquila in the region of Abruzzo (Sbandieratori della Citta' de L'Aquila), and a local corps dressed in medieval uniform (Gruppo Tamburi di San Gimignano), and more contemporary fireworks! After the event, we enjoyed the globally renowned and prize-winning gelato of Sergio Dondoli, savoring delicious flavors such as the Crema di Santa Fina with saffron, a spice growing around San Gimignano, and zabaione al Vin Santo (a very smooth cream prepared with a local dessert wine). If you go to San Gimignano, don't forget to stop at the gelateria of Sergio Dondoli in Piazza della Cisterna!
The following weekend, on June 23 and 24, another festival was organized in the area, namely in my hometown, Colle di Val d'Elsa. This time, the historical reenactment was linked to the Renaissance, not the Middle Ages, giving us the feeling of traveling through time by centuries. The event was called Il Rinascimento di Colle (The Renaissance of Colle) and evokes the Cinquecento (1500) through condottieri (leader of mercenaries), cannoni (cannon fire), soldati in ronde, duelli e scaramucce (soldiers in patrols, duels, and skirmishes), antichi mestieri, artigiani e mercati (old trades, artisans, and merchants), terribili ordali e antichi riti (terrible hordes and ancient rites), taverne del buon bere e mangiare (tavern of the fine dining and drink), divertimenti, giochi e scherzi (amusements, games, and jokes), spectacles, music, and theater for kids and adults. We also went to last year's edition and enjoyed it so much that we decided to return. We went on Saturday, June 23, right after the grand opening, spending three hours in the walled part of the city, enjoying some spectacles of acrobats and typical marches of armed warriors and musicians while we tasted cakes baked from ancient Renaissance recipes, spiced with candied fruit and cloves, as was the red wine we were offered by friends. The attendees were also able to buy gifts and souvenirs made of wood, leather, metals, or linen and cotton, such as some beautiful towels and center-pieces woven by an actual old handloom.
Going there, one could see not just tourists in search of novelties, but also locals who were very interested to witness what life was like in our town many centuries ago and to experience the vocations and social past times of our ancestors. Like most Italian gatherings, this Renaissance feast in Colle was a great venue for social meetings. In fact, we were able to meet many old and new friends, all of who were pleased to hear that I would be recounting the events of our Renaissance reenactment!
Chiara De Santi is a professor of Italian Studies at SUNY Fredonia. Her travel series will be running Sundays on the Travel page. Send comments on this column to firstname.lastname@example.org