The battle of the bridge: a tradition in Pisa

Posted By: About Italy on June, 26 2008 in About Italy, Da vedere, History, Pisa (Tuscany)
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The battle of the bridge in PisaOn the 29th of June, there will be in Pisa the Battle of the Bridge. It is an historical waking demonstration, which is divided in two different moments: the Historical Procession, which is a sort of large military parade with more than 709 figurants, and the Battle on the Ponte di Mezzo, where the teams of the contending factions show their physical strenght creating a suggestive and impressing athmosphere.

The Battle of the Bridge is a very old tourney, whose first surely-documented edition

dates back to the 22th of February in 1568. Nowadays, we believe that its origin stands in the transformation of a local game called “mazzascudo”, a simulated battle played from XI to XIII century. The Battle of the Bridge was fought by Pisa’s citizens who lived in the opposite banks of the river Arno, which divided the city into two opposite areas named Mezzogiorno and Tramontana. At first the Battle took place in Piazza degli Anziani (today’s Piazza dei Cavalieri), then it was moved in the Ponte di Mezzo, the main bridge of the city. Pisa’s citizens took part in it subdivided in 12 teams. Each team, which represented the 12 quarters of the city, was constituted by 50 or 60 soldiers and was characterized by its own colours and flags. The fight was fond on a physical head-to-head battle and each of its participants had a body armour, an helmet called “morione”, and the “tardone”, a sort of wooden shield longer than a meter and heavier than two kilos and a half, which was used as a weapon. At that time the extreme violence of the battle was its principal

The Battle was seen by the Florence’s rulers as a dangerous tool of rebellion, also because of its increasing antagonism. For this reason, Pietro Leopoldo banned it after the edition of 1785. So the Battle was suspended until 1807, the only edition of the XIX century. After a suspension of 128 years, it was then brought back in 1935 and lasted out up to the present.

Moreover, in the postwar period, with the intent to eliminate the head to head fight, it has been created a metallic sliding cart on rails, which was located in the bridge. Protected by their armours, the teams push the immense cart trying to move the opponents beyond the middle of the bridge. They are judged by the force of their efforts, but at last the team that still stands on the bridge wins. The fighting is preceded by an historical parade along the banks of the river Arno, whose participants wear armours and medieval costumes in the typical Spanish style of the late 16th-century.

By now, the Battle of the Bridge is one of the most important event of the city and thanks to it Pisa’s citizens recall the deeds, the feats and the splendour of the ancient republic of Pisa.

Place: Lungarni and Ponte di Mezzo, Pisa
Informations: Municipality of Pisa – Historical Events Department Tel 050 – 910506 / 910393

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