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battle of the bridge
forgotten origins on a restored battlefield

by Jacqueline Harmon Butler

The tradition of the Game of the Bridge dates back to February 22, 1568. Rival teams from different quarters of Pisa fought for symbolic possession of a bridge over the Arno River. In those times, the games often degenerated into brutal and bloody man to man fighting. In modern times, the gore has been eliminated but not the fierce rivalry among the players. During the government of the Medici, the game was played during particularly important festivities and anniversaries along with palios, luminare and other public demonstrations. Even nowadays this event is held together with a series of cultural, artistic and folk events.

The actual battle is preceded by representatives (including 60 judges) of Tramontana, situated north of the Arno river, and Mezzogiorno, south of the Arno, who parade along the two banks of the river, forming two big processions. Each one consists of 300 figures wearing magnificent historical 18th century costumes and armor, carrying colorful banners symbolizing participating teams from the four historical quarters of Pisa. The two formations establish themselves in their squares, at the two ends of the bridge.

After the challenge and the display of flags, the battle round begins every time two of the six teams of each district each (consisting of 20 people) goes out on to the bridge. The object of the game is to push a wooden trolley, weighing more than seven tons, is placed on a 50-yard-long track, to the opposing side of the bridge. The final victory goes to the team that has won the greater number of battles, by pushing the trolley into the enemy field and knocking over the staff with the banner with the colors of the enemy party.

The origins of the game are lost; legend attributes its beginnings to Pelops, the mythical founder of Pisa, who wanted to recall his native Olympic Games. Another story attributes it to the Roman Emperor, Hadrian, who wanted to give a version of gladiatorial combats on the shores of the Arno. Another tradition mentions the battle on the bridge between Pisans and Saccens. It was Lorenzo the Magnificent who decided to move the game to its natural setting.

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*Discovering Monte Argentario
*Villa San Michele
*A Restaurant Discovery
*Tuscan Women Cook
*Battle of the Bridge
*Michelangelo: Graffiti Artist
*City Girl Meets Tuscan Farm
*Leaving Lucca
*The horseshoe adventure in Pinocchio's Hometown
*How to flirt: Lucchese Style
*A Tuscan Feast
*Traveling to Italy Forum

In 1782 Pietro Leopoldo suppressed it on the grounds of public order. After an extraordinary contest in 1807, it lapsed into oblivion until 1935, then suspended because of the II World War. It returned to the bridge from 1950 until 1963. Then, finally the Game of the Bridge returned to its original magnificence in 1982 and has been held each year since then on the last Sunday of June.

Editor's Note: Jacqueline Harmon Butler´┐Żs writing can be found in more than 25 publications, newspapers, magazines and ezines. She is a contributing editor to the anthology, Wild Writing Women: Stories of World Travel, Globe Pequot Press, (April 2002), and is currently working on a novel about a woman "of a certain age," who travels to Italy and falls in love with a much younger man. When not traveling and writing, she is a sales executive in the fashion industry.


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