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  • Giostra dell'Orso (Joust of the Bear)

    By Anthony Parente

    Giostra dell'Orso Pistoia
    Every July 25th the city of Pistoia, which is in the region of Tuscany, hosts the Giostra dell'Orso (Joust of the Bear). This tournament is on the Feast Day of San Jacopo, patron saint of Pistoia. Originally this event was a palio race that began back in the 13th century. This was a significant event as knights from all over Italy came to Pistoia in hopes of winning and given the palio, which was a banner adorned in gold and silver decorations.

    The competition continued annually except during wars, pandemics or political strife. Over the centuries the route and rules have gone through many changes. Prior to World War I the event was suspended and did not return until 1947. Once the event was reinstated it was renamed the Giostra dell'Orso in honor of the heraldic animal in the city coat of arms. From that moment on it was held at the piazza del Duomo, which was transformed into an oval shaped track surrounded by bleachers. The event was postponed again in 1957 and did not return until 1975.

    In the morning, a parade winds through the city streets as participants are dressed in medieval costumes. Following the parade, a mass in honor of San Jacopo is celebrated in the cathedral. In the evening everyone makes their way to the Piazza for the main event.

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    The four historical districts of Pistoia, called rione, compete in this annual joust. Each rione has their own coat of arms and colors. Porta Lucchese is the White Deer sporting white and green. Porta Carratica is the Dragon with red and green. Porta San Marco is the Golden Lion with yellow and red. Porta al Borgo is the Griffon with red and white.

    In all twelve knights participate in the joust, three from each rione. The competition consists of 18 rounds where one knight will compete against another knight to strike the bear shaped target with their lance. Points are awarded as follows: Three points to the rider that strikes the bear first, one point to the rider that strikes the bear second and zero points if you do not hit the bear. The scores for each knight are added to the rione they belong to and at the end the rione with the most points win the joust. In the event there is a tie additional playoff rounds are held. The knight who scored the most points is awarded the Cavalier speron d'oro di Pistoia e contado (The Cavalier of the Golden Spur of Pistoia).


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