In common with many Italian villages, Montisi, in the province of Siena in Southern Tuscany, has its own festivals and the tension is mounting as the “XLIII Giostra di Simone” is about to begin. On the Sunday closest to the 5th August we celebrate the history of the village with an exciting jousting competition and the week leading up to it is full of celebrations.
The competition recalls a part of the history of Montisi dating back to the end of the 13th Century when Simone Cacciaconti, who was the extremely unpopular feudal overlord of the area, was driven from his land, only to return with his soldiers to attack the villagers and to try to burn Montisi to the ground. However faced with huge opposition from the locals, he withdrew to Siena and when he died he left his land to the religious order of the Santa Maria della Scala in Siena.
The earliest recorded evidence of the Giostra dates back to the beginning of the 18th Century and it was re-established in 1972, as a way of bringing life back to the village, which at that time was in steep decline.
Since then the Giostra has grown and the village has developed. Our normal population of 400 swells to over 1000 and family and friends return for the celebrations. With dinners in the streets and live music amongst the festivities it’s a very enchanting time. And such fun too with a flag throwing competition and a grand medieval procession including 70 different characters from history – Princes and Princesses, Dames, Knights, Councillors, Men-at-Arms, Drummers, Trumpeters and Standard-bearers.
The jousting competition takes place this year on Sunday 4th August, the feast day of the ‘Madonna delle Nevi’, the patron saint of Montisi. The horsemen, known as ‘fantini’, each representing the four districts or ‘contrade’ of the village, Torre, Piazza, San Martino and Castello have to gallop across a field, one at a time, aiming to strike the ‘burratto’ which is an effigy of Simone Cacciaconti. Cheered on by the families in their districts with noise resembling a football match on derby day, they charge, armed with spears, and the winner, which is the contrada whose horseman scores the highest number of points, is awarded a painted Banner.
My Contrada is San Martino because that is where I live and my San Martino flag is flying outside my house. This will be my 4th Giostra and my contrada haven’t won the competition in years but I shall be there cheering our fantino next Sunday, and who knows, this could be our year!