Arezzo is a smaller city in the region of Tuscany. Only 45 minutes and €8.40 away from Florence, the city is actually quite larger than you would think, but much calmer than the bustling tourist centers of Roma or Firenze. Still, like the rest of Italy, Arezzo has a rich history, and I am enamored by this city.
Rome was so breathtaking and amazing, but it was extremely overwhelming. I loved how busy the city street got at night; however, I was also rather nervous and scared in the city, as exhilarated as it was. I was exhausted on our bus ride from Rome to Arezzo, and I do not remember much, but arriving in Arezzo, I felt much safer. It felt much homier and less touristy than Rome did. The only overwhelming part of Arezzo was all the hills–which is why most of us were winded pulling our suitcases up to the monastery from outside the walls of the citadel. Even further up the hill, you can find the Church of San Domenico and a Medici Fortress. An important part of Italian history is tangled in a power struggle between the Emperor and the Pope. The Medicis controlled Florence and were large supporters of the Pope, while Aretini were historically ghibelline, against Florence and the Medici. Between the Fortress and the Church is a large park with an overlook that is breathtaking. Our first day in Arezzo was the monthly first Sunday antique market, creating a much different atmosphere than any of us were used to.
The biggest event in Arezzo, is the Giostra del Saracino. Jousting began during the crusades during raids of the Saracens and declined into the 18th century. In 1931, it was reinstated as a historical reenactment of the Saracen Joust. Arezzo is separated into 4 different quadrants: Porta Santo Spirito (4 time consecutive as of this year), Porta Crucifera, Porta Sant’Andrea, e Porta del Foro (where the OU Santa Chiara Monastery is located). The Joust takes place the second to last Saturday of June (and again on the first Sunday of September), but the party and celebration begins the weekend before. Parades will go through town as they practice for the Giostra, with trumpet players, drummers, horses, and people historically costumed. The Aretini begin to wear scarves of their quadrant around their neck, in their hair, or even just tied on their purses. Friday night, mostly all Aretini remain in their quadrants, and large “block parties” take place in a large common area. Wandering after dinner, Jena, Sam, and I found ourselves walking towards the fireworks and flares of the del Foro block party, after hearing chanting and singing. Tables (slabs of wood) with plates on them were carried out again and again. As we walked into the piazza, there was a man standing on top of a table with other people fervently waving the del Foro flag and singing along with him. People talked and laughed with one another, and there were so many people gathered together to enjoy themselves before the Joust the following night, scarves all tied around their necks of course. We were waved at by several people for our scarves as well. Walking back at midnight, we were surprised to see so many people still eating dinner, drinking wine, and talking each other’s ears off at the party, in restaurants, or on patios. The next day was completely different from the Arezzo we had come to know.
The Saracen Joust is “the greatest, most fantastic event that Italy has to offer,” as told to us by a British man we met on a patio, now living in Italy. The Joust was so different than what I had imagined, and the pride that the Aretini had for their city, history, and quadrants showed as we sat and watched the largest event in Arezzo. Excitement filled the air, and it was easy to tell that both tourists and locals were enamored by the event. It started with traditional processions of each quadrant, and flag throwing! (After watching Under the Tuscan Sun that afternoon, the flag throwing was so exciting to see in person.) Then the joust began. We watched as horses galloped towards a wooden target, and awarded 1-5 points based on where the jouster’s long lance would hit the target. The crowd leaped to their feet to see the point of impact, and scorekeepers would quickly cover the target to bring back to judges. Minutes later, when the announcer began to speak, the crowd would become dead silent, ready to hear the score. Cinque! or Tre! or Quattro! This year, Santo Spirito scored two 5’s and won the Joust for the 4th time in a row. As the joust ended, people swarmed towards the Church of San Domenico to see the Archbishop of Arezzo bless the Jouster, and see the Golden Lance prize be paraded through the Church. We made haste and quickly found spots with our del Foro scarves hidden away, and watched excited groups of Santo Spirito pile into the Church. They yelled, grinned, laughed, and waved their scarves in the air in triumph. They sang their chant and reached out to touch the Golden Lance for good luck as it was carried down the aisle. Their excitement was overwhelming; the moments in the church surreal. There is no greater moment than this that showed me the passion and pride of the Italian people and more specifically, the Aretini of Arezzo.
We leave Arezzo in under a week and a half, and I dread that day. We have been here for so long, and it is just started to feel normal, like home. There is still so much here that I want to experience, and I will desperately miss the entire culture here.
Spero di rivederti, Arezzo. I desperately hope to see you again, Arezzo.