On the last Sunday of June, along the splendid flag decked roads which line the Arno (Lungarni), to the roll of drums, the contest known as the Gioco del Ponte takes place. This is a Pisan mini-war in which annually the two parts of the city divided by the Arno “fight” to conquer the Ponte di Mezzo. This is a relic of the cruel feudal Gioco del Ponte which today has become part of a folklore exhibition and is among the most important event of its kind in Italy, not only because of the numbers participating, but also because of the richness of the 17th century costumes of velvet, brocade, silk, damask and its outstanding choreography.
Prior the main “battle” on the bridge, the “armies” representing both parts of Pisa, namely Mezzogiorno (south of the river) and Tramontana (north of the river), march in procession along the roads immediately adjacent to the bridge.
More than 700 participants take part dressed in splendid costumes, armed with swords, daggers and halberds. The Commanders are ornately dressed in suits of armour with plumed helmets, and some 40 horsemen are accompanied by the roll of 40 drummers.
This march along the banks of the river is quite unique and annually tens of thousands of tourists come to Pisa with the sole purpose of enjoying the spectacle.
After the parade it is time for the wagon contest to begin.
Until several years ago, the battle between the two teams sent onto the bridge was to physically prevent their adversaries crossing and there was an actual “man-to-man” contest. Not surprisingly some ended up in the waters of the Arno or in hospital with a pronounced headache.
When the Gioco del Ponte was resumed after the 2nd World War, the battle between Mezzogiorno and Tramontana became less aggressive with the introduction of a metal wagon. Instead of the contest being a wielding of wooden clubs against shields, it became a type of tug-of-war instead. The team who is able to push the wagon and force the enemy to retreat off the bridge, is the winner.
The lack of physical contact has in no way diminished the rivalry between the teams taking part and provocation between them goes on constantly throughout the year.
There is in fact a spy network of informers engaged in sussing out the make-up of the team in order to be able to measure its strength and the stamina required to oppose it. Veritable giants ultimately go onto the bridge dedicated to the frantic effort, which at times, results in illness.
Naturally, clandestine betting is the order of the day and is obviously followed by the inevitable arguments about a possible “fixed” event and “those wishing to get rich quickly”. Tradition requires that the winners celebrate their victory with a night of banqueting and toasting while the losers spend the night in the dark. The lights of the entire area, the public streets and piazzas of the “loser” District, are switched off and half the city meditates in the obscurity of darkened streets on the reasons for the defeat and how to plan the return match.
We advise you to reach Pisa by train both from the Casa Rowe B&B and from the Cosy Apartment in Florence. From Agriturismo I Pitti it is possible to reach Montecatini Terme by car and from there continue by train or directly reach Pisa by car.