I have seen horsemen in the past break camp,
Muster their army and open assault,
And at times even beat a quick retreat;
I have seen outriders roam your countryside,
5 O Aretines, and seen raiding-parties charge,
Tournaments clash and jousters galloping,
Some called by trumpets and some by bells,
By drumrolls and by flares from castle-walls,
By homemade and imported instruments;
(from Dante Alighieri, La Divina Commedia - Inferno, Canto XXII, 1-9)
With these words Dante Alighieri, the Supreme Poet, described the cavalry jousts that took place in Arezzo in the XIII century.
This testimony leads us to esteem the origins of the Saracino Joust in that period.
The word "joust" (giostra in Italian) derives from the Latin word juxtare (to get close).
In the very beginning, jousts were only military exercises; the soldiers used to train, fighting against stooges in a shape of man, which represented the enemy.
Later in time, young knights, members of noble families, started challenging each other in order to celebrate particular occasions (religious festivities, important weddings etc) or simply to prove their physical strength and ability.
Nowadays, the Saracino Joust is one of the main events in Tuscany and is considered to be a big attraction both for tourists and locals. This historical commemoration takes place in Piazza Grande in Arezzo twice per year (the last Sunday of July and the first Sunday of September). An authentic cavalry tournament takes place where knights run against a stooge and hit him with their lance. At the end of the competition, the winner receives the "Lancia d'Oro" (golden lance) as a prize and recognition of his supreme ability.
The first Saracino Joust in modern times was organized in 1931. According to the tradition, a man, Alfredo Bennati was searching a recipe for a cake in the city library and, instead, he found some ancient documents describing a medieval competition among nobles families from Arezzo and the nearby. The joust was meant to train the knights against thieves and raiders that used to come inland from the coasts. Resembling an exotic enemy, the stooge looked like an Asian king, with Middle Eastern physical traits.
When the decision to re-organize a Joust was taken, in the Thirties, the city was divided in 5 "quintieri" (five portions corresponding to five geographical areas, big neighborhoods): Porta Crocifera (with a white green vessel), Porta Fori (with yellow and crimson vessel), Porta Santo Spirito (represented by a blue and golden vessel), Saione (whose colors were white, red and green) and Porta Burgi (with a red, green and golden vessel).
After the first edition few modifications occurred: the areas were reduced to 4, according to the medieval tradition and were denominated as "quartieri". Porta Crocifera and Porta Fori changed their names to "Porta Crucifera" and "Porta del Foro". Saione became part of Porta Santo Spirito, and Porta Burgi was almost entirely absorbed by Porta Crucifera, which took also the colors of the absorbed quintiere. The fourth quartiere was named Porta Sant'Andrea, which took the colors and some of the territories of Porta Crucifera.
These four quartieri, Porta Crucifera, Porta del Foro, Porta Santo Spirito and Porta Sant' Andrea are the ones that till today challenge themselves twice per year in the wonderful Piazza Grande in Arezzo. They inflame thousands of people from all over the world with the spectacular Saracino Joust.