Gioco del Ponte

Today's journey will take us to Pisa. It is a city in the province of Tuscany located in central Italy. Pisa is a city with population of 87,506 (2007).

Leaning tower of Pisa
Leaning tower of Pisa

For most people it is the city of famous Leaning tower of Pisa (in Italian Torre pendente di Pisa). Pisa is also the city of numerous churches, palaces and bridges over the Arno river.

One of those bridges has lot to do with the topic of this article. It is called Ponte di Mezzo. It is a site of local tradition called Gioco del Ponte or Battle of the Bridge. In Pisano dialect people call this event "giòo der ponte".

Ponte di Mezzo
Ponte di Mezzo

The event actually has two parts. First one is the big military parade along the Arno river. The second one is the battle organized on the Ponte di Mezzo.

The whole event has its origin in the Gioco del Mazzascudo which was popular between the 11th and 13th century. This event, with characteristics of a battle, was organized in the old Piazza degli Anziani. This square is today called Piazza dei Cavalieri.

The event included fights of individuals wearing full military equipment. The mass battle was held on the last day of the event. Two sides in battle were the “Cockerel” and of the “Magpie”.

The first Gioco del Ponte event was organized on the 22nd of February, 1568 on the Old Bridge, which is now called the Ponte di Mezzo. The goal of the battle was to get control over the entire bridge or the part belonging to the opponent.

The battle included two sides - Tramontana and Mezzogiorno. Each of these teams had small units of about 50 players. Teams had their own traditional colours and banners.

Each fighter involved in the battle wore an armour, a helmet called "morione" and held large wooden shield called "targone". The shield was quite big and heavy.

The fights were often very violent. So, the grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo made the whole event illegal. The event was not organized after 1785. The next Gioco del Ponte was held in 1807. This was the only event in the century.

The Gioco del Ponte was again brought to life in 1935. After the Second World War one major change was introduced. Organizers made a cart on rails. It weighs several tons. The sides participating in the event take turn in pushing the cart. Judges decide who does better job.

Gioco del Ponte
Gioco del Ponte

Nowadays the event is organized on the last Sunday in June. Apart from the battle there is a big parade. Well, actually there are three parades. Members of the Mezzogiorno and Tramontana march separately. Each parade includes 314 participants. The third parade includes judges. 80 or more people participate in this parade.

The Mezzogiorno team represents people from the following city districts - St. Antonio, St. Martino, St. Marco, Leoni, Dragoni e Delfini. These districts are south of the river Arno.

People from Pisa's districts of St. Maria, St. Francesco, St. Michele, Mattaccini, Calci and Satiri are represented in the Tramontana team. They are located north of the river Arno.

Participants in the Gioco del Ponte wear beautiful Spanish style military costumes from of the late 16th century. They were designed in 1935 by Fortunato Beloni. He was inspired by some prints from the Medici period.

Each year the event attracts an audience of about 100,000 people.