Italian Palio at the seaside

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Italian Palio at the seaside: crew, full speed ahead!

Not just horses, flag throwers and medieval cloths. Actually, the most famous “palio” is the one of Siena but if we go down the Italian coastline, we’ll meet amazing events concerned with the ancient sea incursions. Starting with the “Palio” of Spezia, near Lerici and Portovenere – the ancient fortress-towns featuring the jewels of the villages of Cinque Terre.

 Every year in July the pre-palio is organized in every district – usually on different dates – waiting for the big day, the first week of August where the Palio of the Gulf is held, the competition that involves the crews of the sea districts and the surroundings that look out on the gulf. Their name? Portovenere, Lerici, Tellaro, Le Grazie, Fezzano, Cadimare, Marola, CRDD - Circolo ricreativo dipendenti difesa (The Defence Employees Recreaton Centre) -, Canaletto, Fossamastra, Muggiano, San Terenzo and Venere Azzurra. There’s the rowing competition with fixed seating, the historical parade and fireworks show too, it is an event that is deeply rooted into the sea civilisation and the evolution of the old competitions that used to be held back from every fishing exploration. Nowadays the inhabitants of the thirteen districts train all year through in order to take part in the twelve minutes race when the Palio of the Gulf of La Spezia is held: time is like a handful of sand, it goes by very quickly, according to a popular saying and people have been keen on gathering around this event for almost one century.

From Liguria let’s move on to Tuscany and reach Argentario. Sea currents and river debris made up the sand accumulations of Giannella and Feniglia that are featured by the Orbetello lagoon and connect the Argentario Mountain to the mainland; it is a chalky mountain that offers amazing beauties along its coastline. The most important town in that area is Porto Santo Stefano – in the province of Grosseto – where the Palio of Argentario, called the Sea Palio, is held each year on August the 15th. It is a rowing regatta, four boats with four rowers and an helmsman take part in the competition by representing the four districts of the town: Croce, Fortezza, Pilarella and Valle. The crews compete for the palio along a four kilometres course made of four four-hundred metres lanes. 

On the other Italian side, the Eastern one towards the South there is Puglia and Taranto, the town of the two seas: the Small Sea, a stretch of water almost closed and the Big Sea, an open natural harbour that looks towards the Adriatic Sea. Two-thousand-five-hundred years ago this town was a flourishing and modern Greek state-city and the most powerful overseas “polis” and the palio is held every year in this town. It is a rowing regatta and the ten districts of the town are the protagonists. The eliminating rounds take place in May while the second race is generally held on the third Sunday of July but it was held on the third Sunday of June in 2015. It was held for the first time in 1986 and the elimination rounds take place together with the celebration in the honour of the Patron Saint, San Cataldo.

 The Palio or “the tournament of the districts” takes place in the water of the Big and the Small Sea and the representatives of the ten districts take part in the race; listening to their name is like plunging into the Pelagic world: octopus, sea horse, seagull, sea bream, jellyfish, sea urchin, starfish, seashell, crab and lobster. Each crew is made of two sailors who wear historical costumes and the race basically consists of a circumnavigation of the island in less than half an hour around the historical city. At the end of the race the Committee proclaim the winners among the ships that struggle until the last stroke and reach the finish line under the Swing Bridge. The Cup is given just after the Summer race: the scores are summed up in order to proclaim the winning crew.

Luciana Francesca Rebonato

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