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A Giostra to remember in Sulmona


When I was a child visiting Abruzzo, I would beg my father to take me to the lovely medieval town of Sulmona. I loved to wander into its colorful shops filled with delicate flowers, ladybugs and bumblebees handcrafted from the town’s chief artisanal export, confetti. I have three young boys, who like their mother, look forward to visiting Sulmona, but although they enjoy perusing the confetti shops, they require a bit more action to command their attention.
Last July, my family discovered some different colors in Sulmona at “La Giostra Cavalleresca,” a traditional horse race dating back to the Renaissance. Akin to Siena’s more famous (and far more crowded and costly) Palio, each of the seven sestieri (neighborhoods) of the town compete in the race, which takes place in the sweeping Piazza Garibaldi, flanked on one end by a 12th century aqueduct and on the other by rocky mountains in the horizon.

"La Giostra Cavalleresca" in Sulmona

Perhaps even more impressive than the race itself is the “sfilata rinascimentale”– a reenacted Renaissance parade that forms along the town’s main thoroughfare, Corso Ovidio (named for its native son, the Latin poet Ovid) prior to the race. A veritable spectacle of color and sound, one by one, each competing sestiere presented its lively court to the eager spectators lining both sides of the corso. The pride of the local revelers was palpable as they waved kerchiefs with the colors and emblems of their “sestieri.” The friendly local family seated behind us, adorned in red, blue and yellow, hailed from Porta Manaresca and solicited my sons’ support for its beloved sestiere.

The "sfilata rinascimentale" in Sulmona

Perched on the crowded steps in front of the 16th-century Palazzo dell’Annunziata, my sons’ eyes filled with wonder as they travelled to another place and time. Valiant knights in chain metal sauntered by, their brave demeanor juxtaposed by the juggling court jesters that followed them. “Il gufo”– the wise old owl – and the noble falcon were gingerly escorted on their porters’ shoulders while behind them, synchronized flag-throwers catapulted the flags of their sestiere into the air.
Ladies in waiting wearing jewel-toned gowns danced in unison while throwing coquettish glances into the crowd. Graceful horses were ridden by handsomely bearded “cavalieri” who looked as if they had just stepped off the pages of a medieval history book.

A "cavaliere" in the "sfilata cavalleresca"

The rhythmic drums, the bellowing horns, the vivid colors and the infectious fanfare – this was an exceptional cultural experience my three American boys would never forget – and from time to time, I still hear them reenacting the day’s festivities, cheering on Porta Manaresca.

Travel Information

Sulmona is a wonderful place to spend the day. 
After taking in the sights, my friends at Welcome to Sulmona (like them on Facebook!) recommend dining at Locanda di Gino(lunch only; closed Sundays 0864 52289) or Da Clemente (0864 210679) for authentically prepared Abruzzese specialties.

Michelle CapobiancoMichelle Capobianco
The daughter of Italian immigrants, Michelle grew up with a strong sense of her Abruzzese and Sicilian heritage. She returns to her father's native Abruzzo with her husband & 3 sons each summer, where she uses their family home in Salle as a base for exploring Abruzzo and other regions of Italy. A corporate attorney for nearly 10 years, Michelle turned her passion for Italian gastronomy and culture into a "second-chance" career cooking and writing about Italy's regional foods through her food and catering company in New York called Majella Home Cooking. You can follow Michelle on her food blog Majella Home Cooking and on her Facebook Page.