Pisa's Gioco del Ponte
A battle of strength between the city’s rival districts
In Pisa, on the last Sunday in June, the Tramontana and Mezzogiorno factions of the city challenge each other directly on the Ponte di Mezzo bridge. The origin of the “Gioco del Ponte” (or Game on the Bridge) has its roots in ancient medieval war games. Such a challenge, played out on the Ponte di Mezzo bridge, was recorded in a XVI century manuscript describing a confrontation that occurred between the two factions into which the city was divided by the river Arno: the Tramontana and Mezzogiorno. The game is proceeded by a historic parade featuring over 700 people who travel along the Lungarni to the Ponte di Mezzo. Troups of the Tramontana and Mezzogiorno factions also parade as do some 80 Judges.
ORIGINS - The Gioco del Ponte has its roots in ancient medieval war games. The first edition of the competition was played in 1568. During the Medici era, the game, already known as the Mazzascudo game, was revived and included alongside important occasions and festivals. However, Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo suspended the game in 1785 due to the Pisans refusal to be totally dominated by the Florence Repubblic. The game was not played again unitl 1807, the only edition of the 19 th century. It weas suspended again for another 128 years, until 1935 when it was played with the same rules as the original medieval version.
THE GAME - The ferocity and the force with which the game used to be “fought”, with participants experiencing real hazards to their health from the wooden “targone”, a type of long heavy shield, with which the combatants of those times confronted each other on the bridge. For this very reason the wooden targone has today been replaced by a structure weighing more than 7 tons, which runs on a 50 metre long track laid on the Ponte di Mezzo. This is pushed on opposing sides by the six teams of challengers of each faction in a kind of pushing version of a tug of war.
The six competing teams of Tramontana and the other six of Mezzogiorno, each one composed of 20 men, compete two at a time to decide the final victory of one of the sides.
This year the Gioco sul Ponte will be held on Saturday, June 26, 2011. A historic parade featuring over 700 people will begin at 8pm and it will continue along the Lungarni. At 9:30pm, the battle will begin.