Every first two weeks of September Sansepolcro, in southern Tuscany, hosts the special festival of the Palio Della Balestra. The crossbow games of Sansepolcro are event with origins that date back to 1594 or even earlier. This historical reenactment is the most important and interesting event in Sansepolcro, a small town in the Valtiberina, with mythical origin.
Legend says that two pilgrims, Arcano and Egidio, on the way back home from the Holy Land, received a Divine Call saying them to stay in the valley building a small chapel to keep sacred relics. Few years later a Benedictine abbey and a hamlet were built close by, and this is the reason why the town is called San Sepolcro (Saint Sepulchre).
The Crossbow arrows – Photo Credits: Luca Piomboni
If you are traveling around Tuscany during the first two weeks of September I definitely suggest you to take part of this unique event of the Tuscan and Renaissance tradition.
Flag Bearers – Photo Credits: Luca Piomboni
The festival of the Crossbow Games of Sansepolcro
The Crossbow games of Sansepolcro are the last and biggest event of a two weeks festival in which the village fills its streets with historical events, parades, traditional music and dance to entertain the inhabitants and tourists. You will seem to be catapulted back at the time of Renaissance.
Theatre of the Crossbow games of Sansepolcro,between local archers and the ancient rivals of the Umbrian village of Gubbio , is the Piazza Torre di Berta, a tiny square surrounded by Renaissance buildings.
The day of the Crossbow games
Preparation of the crossbow – Photo Credits: Luca Piomboni
It all began in the fifth teen century when Sansepolcro archers invited those from Gubbio at the crossbow games organized during the celebrations of the Saint patron’s, St Egidio.
The day of the Palio starts in the morning with the reading of the challenge to the archers from Gubbio, made by a herald. In the afternoon it’s time to bless the crossbows. And then, while drums are rolling, horns are playing and flag bearers are launching their flags in the air, the teams in Renaissance costumes enter the crowded square.
The arrows and the Corniolo – Photo Credits: Luca Piomboni
Finally, the crossbow games of Sansepolcro start, and the spectators hold the breath waiting for the throw of the arrow. The archers have to hit the Corniolo, the round target placed at a distance of 36 meters (40 yards).
In the past the prize for the winner was a wool cloth (from the Latin word “Pallium”). Nowadays, the trophy changes every year. It is made by different artists chosen by the Sansepolcro Crossbow Society, the ancient association that has been organizing the Palio since the 15Th century with no interruptions.
The target and the arrows – Photo Credits: David Butali
For more information and tickets about this event of the Tuscan tradition, contact the touristic office of Valtiberina here.