When The Past Comes Alive: Historical Reenactments

A true medieval throwback

By Chiara Severini

Italy is a land full of art and history: every place has a story to tell and is witness and mirror of the flow of time and of people’s actions. Therefore, landscapes are a reminder of the history that took place in them and they tell us a lot about the past and the present.

Have you ever asked yourself why are there royal palaces in Turin? Or, why is it possible to find a big shrine in a small town? The answers to these questions reveal a lot about the history of the place.

Nonetheless, architecture is not the only source we have to discover its history: this latter, along with tradition, remains alive thanks to the people who inherit and continue it. We Italians are particularly active in this respect: we like to remember our past and to go back in time. And we do this through numerous historical re-enactments that take place each year in many towns, from north to south.

The Italian historical reenactments

The historical reenactments – or rievocazioni storiche – usually take place in old towns and involve the entire population. They can last one day, three days or a week, and they are veritable feasts of entertainment: there are parades in period costumes, tournaments, concerts, conferences, games, food… You can eat in a medieval tavern or sit at a banquet with the dukes of the town, watching dancers and tasting dishes from the Renaissance.

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Renaissance banquet in Camerino (Marche)

Indeed, Rievocazione means recalling something from the past. Every town that has a rievocazione, so recalls a certain game of the past, or a specific event or figure of its history by bringing back the place to the splendour and life of a time past. This past, of course, varies from place to place: it can be the Roman times, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance or the XIX century. Among these, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance are maybe the most popular ones, since Italian towns flourished at their finest at that time.

Il Palio, La Quintana and other contests from the past

Many of these re-enactments are called Palio. A Palio was a drape that was given as a prize to the winner of a series of competitions that were usually held in the Middle Ages. Palio is also the name given to these contests that still take place today.

You may have heard of the Palio di Siena which is quite renowned internationally. Here’s a video that shows the race of the 16th of August 2018:

Palio di Siena

In Siena (Tuscany) the various Contrade – or districts – in which the town is still divided face each other in a horse race run in honour of the Virgin Mary in the beautiful Piazza del Campo. The Palio di Siena, which is usually held each year on July 2 and August 16, will take place a third time this year: an extra date has been announced, so the horses are going to run again on October 20 to commemorate the centennial of World War I.

It goes without saying that this is an event you shouldn’t miss if you happen to visit Italy in October!

A Palio isn’t necessarily a race with horses though: in the Palio della Tinozza (Rieti, Lazio) and in the Palio di Taranto (Taranto, Puglia), the competition is between rowing boats; in Fermignano, Marche, there is a Palio della Rana where competitors run with wooden wheelbarrows carrying a frog and they have to put the animal back on the hand-cart each time it jumps away.

Another type of competition is called Quintana. It was a medieval challenge that saw the knights run towards a rotating puppet trying to hit the shield that this latter held in one hand and to avoid the maul it held in the other. A Quintana takes place in Ascoli Piceno (Marche), Foligno (Umbria) and Arezzo (Toscana).

Also, competitions as easy as a race exist: the Corsa alla Spada (Camerino, Marche) gave new life to a race that used to be held in honor of the patron saint of the town in the XIII century. Each year, then, young competitors run through the streets of the town and the winner gets a sword, a spada, as a prize.

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Corsa alla Spada

As you may imagine, the entertainment of these games and the splendour of the costumes paraded by its participants attract thousands of visitors each year. Are you going to be among them next time?