Pisa: Medieval Maritime Super Power

Pisa is a lively  university town that retains the cultural heritage from the 11th and 13th centuries. But Medieval Pisa was an aggressive trading power and one of the richest cities in the world. And this wealth must have inspired them to do something outstanding for the city.

One of the most important days in Pisa’s calendar is the Il Gioco del Ponte Festival. Held each year in June it celebrates the city’s days of glory as a maritime super power.

Pisan residents from either side of the river Arno have always been rivals, and they fight it out by dressing in Renaissance costume and staging an inverse tug-of-war on the city’s oldest bridge, competing to push a giant, leaden cart over the bridge to the other team’s side.

The Game begins with a parade in which the teams assemble at the bridge. Each team represents six neighborhoods, each of which assembles a squadron, called a Magistatura. The teams are directed by Generals who decide which Magistrature are to face off against each other.

Pisa was once queen of the seas and when her sailors boarded enemy ships they carried the mazzascudo (shield-club), a weapon that served as both club and shield. It was a tricky weapon to use and required practice, so the young men of the city’s two districts would gather in a Piazza and hew at each other until only one side was left standing.

Destination – Italy