Sulmona’s Giostra Cavallaresca is a Medieval-style jousting tournament held every summer in the city’s main piazza. An ancient tradition which was revived in 1994, it now forms the highlight of the city’s entertainment calendar attracting visitors from far and wide.
Here is our quick guide to help you make the most of your experience!
There are 3 separate tournaments over 5 days starting on the last Saturday of July and ending on the the first Sunday of August. On the first weekend (heats on the Saturday and finals on the Sunday) is the competition between the 7 different Borghi & Sestieri (neighbourhoods) of the centre of Sulmona: the Giostra Cavalleresca di Sulmona.
The middle Wednesday is the one-day tournament of the riders representing the ‘Borghi Più Belli d’Italia’ – the most beautiful villages in Italy.
On the second weekend are the heats and finals of the European Championships. Each foreign delegation is hosted by one of the neighbourhoods.
The competition takes place in the town’s main Piazza Garibaldi (also know as Piazza Maggiore) in the late afternoon and early evening.
Tickets are available from the ticket office at La Rotonda of San Francesco on Corso Ovidio opposite the Aqueduct. You can buy tickets in person any time right up until the action starts. Cash only here! For the first time this year tickets are also available to buy online from the new Giostra website.
There are several different seating areas called tribune. Each neighbourhood has its own section and you are welcome to buy a ticket in any of these areas so long as you cheer for the right team! The other sections are open to all and are called Santa Chiara, del Fontanone, dell’Anello and dell’Aquedotto. The last 3 tribune are on the shady side of the piazza so bear this in mind especially if you have young children in your party. The best views are generally considered to be from either L’Anello or San Panfilo as these two seating areas are located right next to the rings.
Tickets are priced between €10 and €20.
On the day of each competition the Corteo Storico (procession in historical costume) of both participants and ‘actors’ leaves the Northern end of Sulmona and moves slowly along Corso Ovidio to the main piazza. Check the website for precise details of when and where as it varies slightly day by day. (You may very well catch each group leaving their neighbourhood a little earlier and moving down towards the Cathedral where they all regroup and return together.)
The best place to watch the procession is usually on the steps of the Annunziata on Corso Ovidio: try to get there early and grab a good spot if you can! In reality anywhere along the street between the start of Corso Ovidio (at the War Memorial in Piazza Tresca) and Piazza Garibaldi will enable you to see most of the action. Note that if it is very hot that day, the start can be delayed by half an hour or so.
The 7 neighbourhoods are: Sestiere Porta Japasseri, Borgo San Panfilo, Sestiere Porta Bonomini, Sestiere Porta Manaresca, Borgo Santa Maria della Tomba, Porta Sestiere Porta Filiamabili and Borgo Pacentrano. Each neighbourhood has its own livery and flag, drummers, trumpeters, flag throwers, ‘noble’ men and ladies, captain, knight and of course a horse. As you walk around town you can clearly see the confines of each neighbourhood as the flags on the buildings denote a particular affiliation. Needless to say there is intense rivalry amongst the different neighbourhoods and you will see residents proudly wearing their colours throughout the Giostra season.
The two riders in each race gallop around the track as quickly as possible following a figure of 8 and try to hook rings of different sizes with their lances at the two mid-points. Points are awarded for the value of the rings collected, and the speed of the round, with a winner declared on for each heat. There are three judges who take up strategic positions on the race track to ensure that the race is conducted fairly.
As part of the ‘show’ there is usually a display of flag throwing, dancing, music or birds of prey.
A limited range of refreshments including bottled water and snacks are available to buy in the stadium but you can also leave your seats for a short period if you need to for whatever reason. Handy if you have small children in your party.
After each competition there will be a number of neighbourhood parties around town and you are welcome to join in if you would like to. You’ll find rows of shared tables in the small piazzas where you can sit and eat arrosticini and chips, pizza or burgers washed down with plastic cups of wine or beer – all for a very reasonable price. You usually queue up to pay in advance and are then given a small ticket to exchange at the relevant food stand. Each party will also have a DJ or live band providing musical entertainment until after midnight.
Visitors arriving by car should park in one of the car parks just outside the centre of Sulmona – see our parking guide in the Sulmona Wiki.
Note that for this period the regular Wednesday and Saturday market moves to a new location, usually to the large car park at the end of Viale Togliatti in the new section of the city.