The Bridge Game:
On the last Sunday of June, Pisa has its GIOCO DEL PONTE (the Bridge Game), an evocative competition in medieval costumes with a historical procession of over 800 men, a spectacular display of flag-weavers and the final "battle" on the bridge to declare the victory of either the northern or southern part of the town.
It consist of two distinct and significant parts: the historical Procession along the Arno river wich is a huge military parade, and the Battle, that takes place on the Ponte di Mezzo in wich the two opposing teams give proof of their own physical strenght in a strongly competitive atmosphere.
According to historians, and writers of the 17th and 18th cent., the origins of the Gioco del Ponte are lost in the mists of the Roman and Medieval past of Pisa. This Game is mybe a transformation of the Gioco del Mazzascudo, that from the XI to the XIII cent. was played as simulated battle in the ancient Piazza degli Anziani (now Piazza dei Cavalieri). Tha game was played between single players, equipped with body armour, shields and cudgels; in the final day tha individual battle was replaced by a general battle where the fighters were divided into two teams as "cockerek" and "magpie".
In a manuscript we first find clear reference to Gioco del Ponte, played out on the Bridge with the participation of the two factions into which the Arno River divides the city of Pisa, Tramontana on the northern bank, and Mezzogiorno on the southern, the first appointment of the game was in 22 of February 1568. Under the influence of the Medici, the Gioco took a regular place among the festivals and important annual events of the town.
The desire of more autonomy from Florence and the growing competitive nature of the Game caused Pietro Leopoldo to find it unfair, so after 1785 the Game was abolished and interuupted until 1807, the only time on XIX cent. After an interruption of 128 years, it was organised again in 1935 according to the ancient historical traditions. The fantasitc scenographic effect is always, now as in the past, remarked by the spanish costumes dated of the late XVI cent., created for the edition of 1935 by Fortunato Belloni, inspirated by prints of Medicean soldiers.
This event is traditionally held on the last Sunday of June and also incules and is preceded nowadays by a large pageant with about 750 participants along the Lungarni of the river. Tramontana and Mezzogiorno march separately, creating two parades but at the some time in different parts of the city.
How to play it:
The Old Bridge, now Ponte di Mezzo, was the seat of the battle and the aim of the fight was the conquest of the entire half of the bridge occupied by the opposite team.
In the past the players of Tramontana and Mezzogiorno were divided in several teams of 50 or 60 players each. Soldiers wore an armour and an helmet called "morione" and used the "targone", a large oblong and asymmetrical shield, with rounding extremities, made out of lime or popular wood, over one meter long and weighting around 2.5 Kg: it was used to attak and defense.
The heavy wooden shields, called "targone", born by the soldiers of opposing armies as they faced one another across this bridge in past time has today been replaced by the "Carrello" (carriage). This construction weights more than 7 tons, it glides along a track 50 meters long positioned on the Ponte di Mezzo. Today, as in times long past, the teams are made up of true hulks of men who struggle against the wagon and their adversaries in the attempt to gain ground forward.
Victory belongs to the side whose squads succeed most often in forcing their rivals back to the end of the ramp. That's a sort of "push of War" trying to conquer the opponent's territory. Six teams from Tramontana and six from Mezzogiorno challenge each other at the "carriage" two at the time; tactics and technique vary with each change in teams, while the tension of the crowd on the banks increases with each new challenge.