Game of the Bridge

The traditional confrontation between the Pisa's districts on the Ponte di Mezzo

Get a pen and make a note on your calendar of the date of the 'Gioco del Ponte' in Pisa (Battle of the Bridge in Pisa) on the last Saturday of June! June in Pisa is rich in historical events and some of the best in Tuscany such as: the Luminara, the Historical Regatta of San Ranieri and finally the Giòo der Ponte’ as they say in Pisa (Game of the Bridge in Pisa). During this period the city comes alive with curious tourists who want to know more about the medieval traditions and folklore from the area.

The events are collected in the so-called 'June Pisano' the outcome of which is given precisely by the Game of the Bridge in Pisa. The program is always divided by two key moments: the historical parade (around eight at night) and the battle of the bridge in Pisa on the Mezzo Bridge (at about ten o'clock in the evening). During the Battle of the Bridge, in Pisa the city's districts challenge each other by pushing a cart from side to side on the rails installed along the bridge. The participating teams are united by membership to the historical districts of Pisa featuring flags, colours and unique sayings.

The Game of Bridge in Pisa is a very fierce competition in which two factions fight to win on the surface of the bridge and become the undisputed master. The parade is an important part of the event and strongly evokes the origins of the game of bridge due to the presence of more than seven hundred people parading along the Arno river in Pisa, creating a very charming medieval historical simulation.

Game of the Bridge

ORIGINS. The Pisa Battle of the Bridge is a historical event that originates from the 14th century. Before then, at a time when the city of Pisa was a Republic, there was already a game called Mazzascudo during which the people on the opposite sides of the Arno River challenged each other: the northern part originally called the Gazza and then Tramontana, the southern part called the Gallo and then Mezzogiorno. The Game of the Bridge in Pisa, Italy is characterized by its ferocity and the use of clubs and shields (in comparison Calcio Storico Fiorentino is nothing) to gain greater territorial dominance. According to historical records there was a temporary ban to perform the game during the time of the Medici domination under the city of Florence, which considered this event a symbol of independence for the town.

The first official edition of Pisa Gioco del Ponte dates back to 1568, when the bridge was called Ponte Vecchio and the conflict saw the use of about 60 soldiers for each of the two opposing teams. Originally the game was played in the ancient Square of Anziani (now called Piazza dei Cavalieri), while in later times Ponte di Mezzo become the official theatre of the race. 
The Battle of the Bridge of Pisa, unlike other races such as the medieval Palio of Siena or the Saracen, is based on the physical strength of the teams that are put to the test before achieving victory.

Over the centuries the Pisa Bridge game has been modified, banned and stopped but in the end, always restored. As for the changes, the most significant has been that clubs and shields are no longer in use but instead they have been replaced with Targone, a wooden board with the colours of the teams, (over a meter long and weighing about three kilos). The use of the board remained unchanged until 1807, when the queen Maria Luisa decided to suspend the game, considering it too violent and like a real battle: the definition of the monarch remained famous: 'for a game there is too much violence, for war it is too little'. How to blame her?

At the beginning of the 20th century university students tried to resurrect the Game of Bridge in Pisa. In fact, Pisa was home to a large number of young fans eager to organize a procession to revive the events and traditions of the city in which they lived.
In 1935 they staged a modern version of the Game of Bridge in Pisa in which the King Vittorio Emanuele III also participated.
During the Second World War, the event was suspended and the Ponte di Mezzo was torn down during the fighting. The next game took on a completely playful attitude avoiding direct confrontation between players and using a mechanical cart to slide on the rails. The changes that remained to this day have included, therefore, the simultaneous pushing between the two opposing teams, from one direction to the other, in a really compelling and relentless tussle!

The Gioco del Ponte in Pisa was relaunched in 1981 thanks to the dell’Associazione Amici del Gioco del Ponte. (apart from 2005 no other suspensions have since been made). Pisa completes with this exciting competition a month full of events and revitalization of its historic heritage and folklore.

 

CONTRADE. In the game of bridge in Pisa the challenge is between the two historical teams of the city of Pisa: Tramontana and Mezzogiorno. Both representing six districts: Tramontana includes the districts of Santa Maria, San Francisco, San Michele, Mattaccini, Calci, Satiri; whereas in Mezzogiorno there are the neighbourhoods of St Anthony, St Martin, St Mark's, Lions, Dragons and Dolphins. Can you remember them? It doesn’t matter, just remember the two that represent them!

Why is there this division? The city of Pisa is divided by the river Arno: observing a map, you will see that two distinct territories are separated by the natural course of the river running directly into the sea. Going back to the neighbourhoods of the Game of Bridge in Pisa, many of the names you read are tied to the 'mythical' past of the Pisan military units. Some districts have maintained the original names, others however, have been taken from the 18th century teams. Each district is linked to an entity called 'judiciary' which deals with the organization of the teams and works to make sure that the Game of bridge in Pisa remains a popular event. The flags of the districts bear illustrations and symbols of companies and ancient tradition besides the representative colour of each team.

Among the most interesting things about the Gioco del Ponte in Pisa, the mottos are a good summary of the spirit of the race. For example: the motto of the Satyrs is 'old and decrepit I am, give me respect or I'll beat you up', fearless is the motto of the Dolphins 'Fear no storm', full of civic pride the one of St Martin 'Pisa makes water and earth shake', simple and direct that of Mattacini 'We must win', in Latin that of St. Michael 'melius dare qua accipere' and finally concise and fleeting that of Santa Maria 'hand to mouth '.

... In which one do you recognize yourself?

 

HOW IT WORKS. The game of bridge in Pisa today consists in pushing a cart along the rails along a track on the Ponte di Mezzo in order to reach the opposing side and to have the better of the enemy team. However, before you attend this inhumane showdown, the event focuses on the historical parade in costume. The clothes are designed in a 16th century Spanish style with the use of velvets, damasks, brocades and are worn by over 700 people, some of them on horseback. Carrying various weapons such as swords, daggers, axes and morioni (helmets). There is no lack of trumpets, drums and signs that make the parade on Lungarni an impressive event full of ancient sounds and symbolic images.

What happens during the race? Until the end of the last century, the game of bridge in Pisa included six fights among the twelve teams and a further challenge for a draw that took place by choosing the best fighters from each faction. Since 2007, the 'Battle of the Bridge Foundation' was in charge of making changes and innovations to make the clash even more exciting. As in any game, there are some basic rules that participants must respect: both teams once in place (in the centre of the bridge) initiate the 'collective thrust' in opposite direction steered by their Captain. When these decide to initiate the challenge, they signal the umpire to release the brake of the truck placed on the track and so the competition begins and the effort to defeat the opposing faction.

Then the clash between 'titans' comes to life seeking to gain the most wins to get maximum points and get the title of winners. The combat may last a few seconds or expand by up to ten minutes! The cart must arrive at the opposing part and the boundary is determined by the presence of a flag placed on both sides: when it falls, the enemy territory has been won and the game can end, but, with considerable effort involved to bring it down!

Just like in other sports, there are moments of stalemate and defensive pressure and other attacking ones when a team decides to pull the most of their forces to have the edge over their opponents. In the jargon belonging to the Game of Bridge in Pisa during this attack it is said that the team 'enters' when fighters manage to gain ground after a great physical effort based on the bending of the legs. The push includes a body position where the neck and shoulders are lowered into the cart and the thrust is given by moving backwards with the rest of the body. Imagine how much experience is needed to avoid a back strain! In other words: do not try this at home to be clever with the furniture!

 

THE RULES of the Game of Bridge in Pisa allows participants to protect themselves with a pillow placed between the shoulder and the tube of the carriage to which the fighter is attacked during the time of the race and with a belt tied to a stick used for pushing. Another crucial detail for these heroic 'pushers' are the shoes: a heel on the tip allows to maintain a proper position of the ankles, suitable to the thrust. In short, it is nothing like pushing the shopping trolley, don’t you think?
Some of you will wonder how one can prevent a back injury, in fact among the rules the use of hard corsets and bodices is forbidden. Experience and training are the only protections that are available! Do you want our advice? Do not try and emulate these brave men, enjoy the game and choose a side!
Remember that for those who will not take a stand, Dante had a very bitter fate planned for them… have you forgotten the sloth in the third canto? It is thanks to the Divine Comedy if today we use the definition  'without praise or blame' (senza infamia e senza lode)....Did you not know? Tuscany is such: any excuse to quote the great Alighieri!

 

AROUND A PISA. The Game of bridge in Pisa is an interesting way to visit Pisa and its Lungarni through a historical commemoration. A stop in this city should not miss its treasures starting from the splendid Piazza dei Miracoli with the famous Leaning Tower! Since the event takes place in the evening, take advantage of one of our tours to discover the Pisa's historic centre and its monuments.

As for the surroundings, there are the nearby beaches of the Marina di Pisa and, if you want to remain in the marine environment, you can choose to move north to the Versilia or down along the Argentario. Do you prefer natural areas? This area offers one of the most beautiful parks in Tuscany, the Natural Park of San Rossore and the area around Lake Massa Ciuccoli! Finally, we would like to remind you that you are not far from interesting places like Lucca, Livorno and Volterra.

 

The Game of Bridge in Pisa is one of the rare opportunities to take the time machine and relive one of the oldest traditions of a Tuscan city, so do not miss this great event!

By Insidecom Editorial Staff