The Giostra Cavalleresca of Sulmona is the annual jousting tournament held in the town’s main square called Piazza Garibaldi. Revived in the year 1995, it features riders representing the different areas of the town in a figure-of-eight horse race around a sandy track. The track is constructed at the beginning of each summer just for this purpose.
Each year, the 7 different Borghi (hamlets) and Sestieri (neighbourhoods) compete for the coveted title. A sea of colour, with historically accurate costumes from the Medieval period, it can be difficult to understand who the various players are. We’ve put together this guide to help you identify who everyone is and to choose which team to support!
Each team is represented by a professional rider (often from outside of Sulmona), a captain, drummers, trumpeters and flag throwers (Sbandieratori) plus a cortege of local Sulmonesi representing the old noble families of Sulmona including the Mazara family, the Sardis, the Tabassis and the Corvis.
These city districts are the hamlets originally located outside of the city’s ancient walls.
Borgo Santa Maria della Tomba
Located in the area around the church of Santa Maria della Tomba in Piazza Plebiscito.
Livery: Green & yellow
Current Captain: Franco Ventura
Performance: 2 times winners (2007, 2014)
Notes: Known simply as ‘Tomba’ (grave or tomb) this neighbourhood is the largest of the 7 participating districts of Sulmona in that it includes the whole of the southern section of the old city centre and is named after the famous church in Piazza Plebiscito.
Motto: Assunta est Maria
Website – Facebook Page
Located in the area near the old gate into the city of the same name, in the south-east of the historical centre. Their parties are held in the tiny Piazza Sant’ Agata.
Livery: Brick red & orange
Current Captain: Raffaello De Angelis
Performance: 1 time winner (1999)
Notes: The livery of this neighbourhood reflects the special brick patterned ‘trompe l’oeil’ painted design on the internal walls of this ancient city gate.
Motto: Unguibus et Dentibus
Borgo San Panfilo
San Panfilo is located in the area to the north of the city between the end of Corso Ovidio and the Cathedral of the same name. It holds its parties in the open space behind the Panfilo Serafini Middle School on Viale Matteotti.
Livery: Yellow, red & black
Current Captain: Paolo Alessandroni
Performance: 1 time winner (1997)
Notes: Paolo Alessandroni is the longest serving captain who has been in position since the beginning in 1995.
Motto: Salus Mea Pamphilus Est
Website 1 / Website 2– Facebook Page
These are the neighbourhoods which form the nucleus of the centre of the old city and each has a border along the principal street Corso Ovidio. The sestieri take their names from the ancient gates that ringed the old city
Sestiere Porta Japasseri
Located in the area to the north-east of the city between San Panfilo and Manaresca. Their parties are held in Piazza Santa Monica.
Livery: Red, black & silver
Current Captain: Antonio Cinque
Performance: 2 times winner (1997, 2002)
Notes: The original name is Sestiere di Porta Ioannis Passarum – named after the city’s entrance gate of the same name
Motto: Per Aspera ad Astra
Website – Facebook Page
Sestiere Porta Manaresca
Located in the area to the north-east of the city between Japasseri and Porta Pacentrana. Their parties are held in Largo Palizze, up the slope behind Piazza Garibaldi.
Livery: Red & blue
Current Captain: Filippo Mercantini
Performance: 6 times winners (1995, 2001, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015)
Notes: Manaresca hosts a full calendar of social events throughout the year including the ever-popular ‘Panarda’ Renaissance-style banquet which lasts many hours and features over 20 different courses.
Motto: Primus inter Pares
Website – Facebook Page
Sestiere Porta Bonomini
Located on the north-west side of town, their headquarters are in the 15th-century Palazzo Tabassi and their parties are held in Vico della Madonnella.
Livery: Red, yellow & green
Current Captain: Angelo Pallozzi
Performance: 2 times winner (2000, 2010)
Notes: The original name of this Sestiere is Porta Bonorum Hominum – named after the city’s entrance gate of the same name.
Motto: Fato et Facto
Website – Facebook Page
Sestiere Porta Filiamabili
Located between Bonomini and Tomba, their parties are held in the very attractive ‘Villetta’ gardens at the end of Via Mazzara.
Livery: Yellow, black & royal blue
Current Captain: Alessandro Giampietro (3 years service)
Performance: 7 times winners (1996, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2012)
Motto: Semper Amabilis
Website 1 / Website 2 – Facebook Page
On the two days of the Giostra tournament, each of the different neighbourhoods has their own section of the stands where their supporters sit. Why not pick which one you want to support and join them there? Be prepared to get involved with the yelling, cheering, booing & Mexican waves. You’ll be more than welcome to join any of the teams for their post-tournament parties back on their home turf.
Other important characters
Maurizio Antonini has been in charge of coordinating all aspects of the Giostra for 2 years. He has been vice-president twice, from 2013 through 2015 and from 2009 until 2011. It’s a job that occupies almost all of his time, with its peak from January to August. Maurizio says that the aspect he likes most about his job is bringing different foreign delegations and events to Sulmona. You will see him in the parade and he will be at the centre of all the various presentations.
The City of Sulmona standard bearers and trumpeters
You’ll see a small group dressed in blue tunics, including both trumpeters and drummers, usually at the very front of the parade. They will be carrying the standard of the city of Sulmona.
Giovanna, Queen of Aragon
Giovanna d’Aragona (1554 – 1517) was the Spanish wife of Kind Ferdinand I of Naples. They ruled Sulmona, amongst many other cities within their kingdom, during this period which we see reenacted by the various protagonists of the Giostra. The honorary role of Queen Giovanna will be played this year by Ms. Louise Madeleine Smith, the Australian consul in Rome. In previous years the Queen has been played by Italian showgirl Raffaella Fico and also by the well-known actress Anna Falchi.
Il Mastrogiurato (Chief Judge)
The chief judge is the highest authority on the tournament field and he is responsible for how the competition is run – the starts, the scoring and for announcing the winner. Although he is the ultimate decision maker he works alongside two other judges. The role of Mastrogiurato is currently fulfilled by Andrea Giordano de Capite, a descendant of one of Sulmona’s ancient noble families.
The owls and falcons, together with their handlers, are always a popular part of the spectacle and would have been present during medieval times at sporting events. Check out the website of the Falconieri del Rosone.
The Fool and the Witch
As part of the ‘corteo’, you may well see some extra bonus characters including the Fool & the Witch. These are simply to add extra authenticity to the medieval scene. They enjoy playing to the crowd so give them a big cheer when you see them!
Behind the scenes
The Giostra Cavalleresca di Sulmona is a huge event and entails many months of hard work by many different volunteers. Let’s not forget the dressmakers, those who work at the livery yards looking after the horses, the vets, the commentators, the emergency services, the town’s sanitation workers, plus all of the other volunteers in each of the neighbourhoods who put on the huge number of events throughout the year to ensure the success of the Giostra – time and time again.