Giostra dell'Orso 2018

An ancient horse race in the suggestive frame of the medieval Piazza del Duomo

25 July 2018

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25th July in Pistoia marks the celebration of San Jacopo, the patron saint of the city and the highlight of the day is the Giostra dell'Orso. In the stunning Piazza del Duomo, the medieval heart of the city, a ring of beaten earth is created, where the knights of the four districts of Pistoia challenge each other. The game is to try to hit the silhouette of a bear, positioned on the side of the track, with a spear. This game, one of the oldest medieval jousts in Italy, is preceded by an evocative costume parade. Indeed, to tell the truth, for San Jacopo, the Pistoia historical parade is made up of two: one takes place in the morning and the other in the evening, just before the start of the race. In short, the celebrations for St James of Pistoia are an excellent opportunity to spend a day full of events in this nice and pleasant town. If the crowd of the Palio di Siena is too frightening and you want something less overwhelming, the Joust of the Bear in Pistoia is just right for you!


SOME HISTORY ON THE GIOSTRA DELL'ORSO PISTOIA. This ancient horse race seems to date back to the 1200s, even if the first testimonies of the palio of Pistoia date back to the sixteenth century. Back then, the race didn’t take place in Piazza del Duomo but rather along a straight path that started from the outskirts of the city and reached the historic center. In Pistoia the horse race was transformed into the Giostra dell'Orso at the beginning of the 19th century and the competition took place every single year, except for years of war or plague. The modern version started in 1947 and was held regularly for about ten years. Having fixed the problems of paving of squares that had caused its interruption, from 1974 onwards in Pistoia the Joust of the Bear has always taken place. The only exception in modern times is 2015: that year, the city authority decided not to give the event the green light. In fact, during the 2014 Bear ride, two horses were seriously injured and had to be put down. The Pistoia San Jacopo celebrations just weren’t the same without the classic horse race, so it was decided that it was best not to eliminate it, but rather to simply think of new rules that would protect horses more.


HOW THE GIOSTRA WORKS. The joust of the Bear is disputed by knights belonging to the four districts into which the city is divided. In Pistoia the districts, as expected, each have their own color and symbol that represents them. The city is practically divided into as many areas as (more or less) the four city gates: Porta San Marco is painted with the golden yellow colors of ‘Leon D'Oro’, Porta al Borgo with the white and red of the ‘Grifone’, Porta Carratica of the green red of the Dragon and finally Porta Lucchese is red and white, typical of the White Deer. But let's go back to the rules of Giostra dell'Orso! According to the new regulation, each district has three horses plus one reserve horse that face each other in eighteen rounds. The trumpeters announce solemnly the entrance of knights who are preceded by the picturesque historical parade of Pistoia and the city authorities, after which are seated under the loggia of the Palazzo Comunale. At this point a herald reads the regulations, which given that they are new, will be listened to very carefully for the Giostra dell'Orso 2018. Only now can the race start! The knights in pairs of two gallop with their spears lowered along the track and must try to hit the two stylised bears that serve as targets. According to the new Giostra dell'Orso rules, five different scores will be assigned according to the accuracy of the hit. This means that maximum and minimum speed limits have been established, but do not ask me how they will be measured! Even for the breeds of horses, preference has been given to those that are perhaps a little slower but certainly more robust. All for one purpose: avoiding the sad ending of 2014! That being said, after the various rounds, the winner district is announced and the Speron d'Oro is awarded to the rider who individually scored the highest score. The winning district wins the 'palio', the painting on fabric that, like in Siena, is made every year by a different artist.



9:30: departure of the historical parade from the headquarters of the four districts. Each district is represented by a captain, a knight, a trumpeter and a fair number of halberdiers. All the districts meet in Piazzetta Romana and cross the historic center, arriving in Piazza del Duomo passing from Piazza della Sala, via di Stracceria, via Roma, via Cavour, via Buozzi, via Curtatone and Montanara, via Abbi Pazienza, via delle Pappe, via Filippo Pacini, via Palestro, via Cavour and via Roma. Pistoia’s historical parade for Pistoia’s Saint Patron is leaded by the heads of the municipality and the province and a series of traditional figures such as the page carrying the keys of the city and the Podestà, all arriving in the cathedral.

11:00: celebration of the mass in honor of the patron of Pistoia San Jacopo. The bishop of the city waits for the parade in the cathedral and upon its arrival opens the doors and lets in the procession, called 'Processione dei Ceri'. This is because during the celebration, as well as the palio, the painting on canvas that will be delivered to the winning district, four candles are also offered.

19:30: the historical parade crosses Piazza del Duomo. The horses and the riders are accompanied by a suggestive parade right where the race will take place. The Bishop blesses all the participants before the start of the much-anticipated Italy medieval horse race, the ‘palio’.

21:30. The knights reach the square followed by the cortège: the knights make their entry into the square followed by the picturesque procession and, after greeting the authorities and representatives of each district, take a seat under the arch of the Palazzo Comunale. Only at this point ....  can the Joust of the Bear really begin!


USEFUL INFORMATION. Giostra dell’Orso tickets can be purchased at the Tourist Office of Pistoia which is located right in Piazza del Duomo. The event takes place in the city center which is a five-minute walk from the train and bus stations. If you’re arriving by car, we would advise you to leave your car at the Pistoia parking lot ‘Cellini’ and walk to the center, it’s only five minutes! But if you want to really take it easy, why not book one of our hotels in Pistoia? Among other things, from this enchanting town you can quickly reach other art heritage cities such as Florence, Lucca and Pisa. Versilia, with its wonderful beaches, is also very close! If you prefer some fresh air... Pistoia mountains are perfect for a trip or just for an ice cream in the green!

What do you think? Quite a nice excuse to spend a few days in Tuscany, right? Plus, Joust of the Bear program is so rich that it constitutes a unique opportunity to jump back in time, to the Middle Ages! Take part in the key event of ‘Il Luglio Pistoiese’ and seize the chance go on one of our tours in Florence!

By Insidecom Editorial Staff