by Giovanni Bosi Foligno / Italy
(TurismoItaliaNews) It is considered by tradition the “centre of the world”. Foligno, in the heart of Umbria and Italy, is famous worldwide for the Quintana, the jousting tournament which in June and September renews the challenge among the knights of its ten wards. An exciting challenge where each knight, riding his own galloping horse, has to catch a series of rings (which gradually become smaller and smaller) hanging from a wooden statue called “Quintana”. It is a great feast of people, colours and passions, but also an accurate historical, scenic, iconographic and gastronomic reconstruction of the Italian Baroque. This is Foligno, with its 17th century palaces, museums, Baroque Oratories and the first edition of the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, printed here in 1472.
The Quintana Tournament
Every year in June and September Foligno brings to life again the most awaited challenge: the Quintana Tournament, the most charming and difficult ring competition ever held in Italy and for this reason defined as the Olimpics of equestrian competitions. The inhabitants of the town are divided into ten wards (Rioni), each of them being represented by a Knight of ‘the Jousting Field’ (Campo de li Giochi) aiming at winning the banner (Palio). Each knight is identified by a nickname: the “Gagliardo” (strong) represents the Ammanniti ward; the “Ardito” (brave) for the Badia ward; the “Pertinace” (tenacious) for the Cassero ward; the “Furente”(furious) for the Contrastanga ward; the “Fedele” (faithful) for the Croce Bianca ward; the “Animoso (fiery) for the Giotti ward; the “Generoso” (generous) for the La Mora ward; the “Baldo” (brave) for the Morlupo ward; the Moro (dark) for the Pugilli ward; the “Audace” (daring) for the Spada ward.
In order to win the competition each knight on horseback runs a 754 metres eight-shaped track on the racing ground. At the crossing of the diagonal lines the Quintana statue stands, its left arm holding a shield with the symbols of Foligno (the Lily and the Cross) while its right arm holds the rings which are to be caught with a spear by the knights riding at full gallop. Together with the knights the horses are the protagonists of the race: they are trained for months in order to become fast, precise and competitive. The rings are of three different sizes: eight cm for the first round, six and five cm for the other two. The total number of rounds is nine. The knight who manages to run the track in the shortest time and with the least penalties wins the “Palio” painted every year by a famous artist. The Challenge Tournament is held in June, the Return Game in September.
The Historical Parade
The night before the game a historical parade goes through the city centre. Hundreds of characters dressed in Baroque costumes represent the local body responsible for the Tournament(Giostra), the Townhall and the ten Wards. Noblemen and ladies, knights on horseback, pages and valets, drummers and trumpet players, flag bearers and flag jugglers bring back the emotions of the past in a wonderful pageantry. Before the reading of the “Bando” (Opening Speech) in Piazza Grande the knights register for the competition of the next day and the Bishop blesses them in the Cathedral square. Then the Procession goes through the town following a picturesque route under triumphal arches and evocative lights. It takes place in June and September every year.
They date back to the period from 1580 to 1620. It is the Hispanic style transferred to Italy, in an area which was under the Pope’s rule. For the production of the costumes worn by the various characters of the Quintana, reference is made to paintings or other iconographic documents of that period: the most talented city tailors make the costumes using precious and valuable fabrics. Vintage jewellery made by goldsmiths of Foligno with precious materials complete the work.
The rings, like the statue which has given the name to the tournament, are another unmistakable symbol of the challenge in Foligno. They are hand-made, in three different sizes of eight, six and five cm diameter, and are adorned with white and red strips, the colours of Foligno coat of arms. But why use rings? This type of tournament was introduced after the Roman quintana games where the knights had to hit a trunk or a pole driven in the ground. The knight had to hit, with a spear, circles of different sizes drawn on the trunk thus obtaining different scores and making the challenge more exciting. In later periods circles were drawn on the shields of the statues used for the tournaments; finally rings were used in the same way as they are in the present game.
The Taverns are the heart of the Wards. Each ward has got its own tavern where people meet and taste Umbrian traditional dishes, an occasion which brings back the atmosphere of the spectacular banquets typical of the Baroque period. The food served in the taverns by characters in costumes is prepared following the 17th century recipes. From the architectonic point of view the taverns are very interesting because they are located in the cellars or other parts of the old palaces in Foligno city centre. The wards compete also in the “Gareggiare dei Convivi”, a competition of banquets which doesn’t consist only in food tasting, but it also includes cookery display, decorations and performances of musicians and actors in the setting of Late Renaissance and early 17th century. The taverns are open in June and September.
The Soprastanti Fair
In September (sometimes also at the end of August) Foligno begins the Quintana period with the Soprastanti Fair, a long-awaited event attended by thousands of visitors. It is the recalling of the market which took place in the city centre during the Renaissance. In 1600 Foligno was a meeting point for travellers and merchants on their way to Rome both from the Adriatic coast and from the Po Valley. For this reason, especially in the Middle Ages, Foligno was an important commercial centre where haute couture models arrived before getting to Rome or Florence. The “Soprastanti” were distinguished citizens of Foligno who were appointed every year to supervise the fair and their Captain was the highest dignitary in charge of it. The currency used in the transactions in 17th century Foligno was the “quattrino”, the coin of the Papal States under Pope Paolo V. Still today the fair is organised with the same spirit: everything has to be faithful to the past. From the stalls to the houses, from the decorations to the products sold, from the merchants’ clothes to the soprastanti’s ones. And everything is obviously paid by the “quattrino”.