Here's a look at the medieval jousting festival in Ascoli Piceno by about.com's guide to Family Vacations, Teresa Plowright.
Ascoli Piceno Vacation:
With multiple family trips to Italy under our belt, I felt reasonably familiar with this most bellaand dolce vita country -- that is, until I emailed About.com's Guide for Italy, Martha Bakerjian. We're talking detailed knowledge about fascinating places above and beyond Italy's big-name draws.
For example: the town of Ascoli Piceno, a town of 51,000 inhabitants, located just a jog inland, about half-way down the boot of Italy. My family was driving from Venice south to Bari, and I asked Martha about an interesting place to stop en route.
She mentioned a festival with jousting that happens once a year - and the gods of timing smiled: the first Sunday in August was exactly when we would be passing through.
Ascoli Piceno: Medieval Parade
We arrived just in time to view a stately procession down Ascoli Piceno's photogenic main street. Talk about community spirit: some 1500 citizens, outfitted in impressive 15th century costumes, filed past to the sound of a steady drum-beat. Several were on horseback, but most marched on foot on a warm day in August (one or two grew faint.)
Ascoli Piceno Background:
Ascoli Piceno, in the Le Marche region of Italy (see Marche map), was founded over two thousand years ago, centuries before Rome got its start. Like many cities in Italy, it had a heyday during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Fortunately for us in the 21st century, the historical parts of the city were built in a beautiful long-lasting marble called travertino and as Ascoli Piceno did not grow up to be a major urban center, a huge medieval district remains intact.
The Quintana procession and joust is a revived tradition, based on medieval documents and artwork.
Ascoli Piceno Medieval Joust: the Quintana
After this parade, the spectators crowded into grandstands around the jousting field (paid admission -- 15 euros.) Few if any other tourists were in evidence; the stands were packed with enthusiastic residents cheering for one of six champions, each representing a specific sestiere, or neighborhood, in the town. Out on the field, elite seating areas were filled with spectators wearing the colors of their team.
After opening ceremonies with parading and fanfare, the first of several rounds of jousting began on a course shaped like a racetrack cut through with diagonal lines. Riders-- with heavy lance-- and steed gathered momentum as they thundered around the track and then lunged through the middle, lance forward, to pummel a cardboard figure of a Saracen, or Moor. The system of scoring was mysterious to us, but within moments a score was posted and loud cheers erupted from fans for that sestiere.
If you go: be prepared for a hot and lengthy afternoon! The crowd was intensely involved in the scores of the jousts, cheering for their sestiere; for a visitor however, an hour of two of parade and jousting might suffice, especially with kids. It might then be time to repair to an air-conditioned room, or a gelati bar, to await the the cool of evening and more events.
Evening and Night-time Revelries for the Whole Family:
Dusk on this festival day in Ascoli Piceno brought another procession - the proud winner of the joust, just one of many in medieval garb as the parade passed through through the wonderful and huge Piazza Arringo and moved deeper into the magnificent old quarter of the town. All this, and hardly a tourist to be seen. The sight of the costumed procession moving by as darkness fell was wonderful.
Then the town celebrated: all ages, gatherings of family and friends, eating outdoors in the giant Piazza Arringo, babies in strollers, kids dashing around, shops open late (and I don't mean tourist shops). We wandered through the extensive old quarter, which is wondrously preserved, with the light-colored travertine stone that glowed at night.
The church at one end of Piazza Arringo was still open at midnight, with classical music playing within, and a sign outside advising that dogs shouldn't be brought inside: somehow I love a church that feels a need to make this statement. Families were still having a fine time eating al fresco when we called it a night and went to our room nearby. Later we heard and glimpsed fireworks (pirotecnici).
Ascoli Piceno Quintana PhotosTeresa has Ascoli Piceno Medieval Parade and Jousting Pictures, taken during the 2008 Quintana.
Visiting Ascoli Piceno:
Where to stay in Ascoli Piceno: Albergo Piceno (read reviews and book direct) was a great place to stay, one minute walk from Piazza del Popolo and from other old sections of the town; quad room available; air conditioning; and a fabulous breakfast included in the rate. Here are more guest-rated Ascoli Piceno hotels on Venere.
Things to do: Ascoli Piceno has a nice museum (free admission) with costumes used in the parade, and medieval artifacts.
Getting to Ascoli Piceno: rental car is the way to go (find and book rental cars on Auto Europe). From the A14 autostrada (east coast toll road), take the San Benedetto del Tronto exit.
Ascoli Piceno can also be reached by frequent regional trains, taking 30 to 40 minutes, from either San Benedetto del Tronto or Porto d'Ascoli, stops on the east coast rail line. The train station is just outside town. There is also a bus from San Benedetto del Tronto that leaves from the train station and arrives in the center of Ascoli Piceno.
Reasons to go to La Quintana in Ascoli Piceno:
- You don't get much more local color than this: costumed processions, medieval-style joust
- You don't get more local fun than this: a festive occasion with late-night party for all ages
- Setting is amazing: the old quarters of Ascoli Piceno are as good as many of Italy's much more touristed towns