At the end of June (18, 19 this year), the Baroque splendor of the Quintana festival takes center stage in Foligno. Festival apogee is the Sunday jousting match, rooted in the Roman history of the town, then called Fulginium. The Roman army camp – “la quintana” – was the site of the arduous training of Roman soldiers. Armed with swords or lances, the soldiers in training hurled themselves at a target in the form of a soldier holding a ring, striving to run the sword through the ring, thus honing their accuracy.
Town documents date the first Quintana – a jousting match for entertainment of the populace – to 1418, and in 1613, the Priors governing Foligno incorporated la Quintana into the pre-Lenten celebrations, Carnevale. Today, the ten competing knights – one for each rione (“district”) of the city – gallop at breakneck speed on a challenging course, lance aimed at the Quintana statue holding three rings, progressively smaller (the smallest is just under 2 inches in diameter). Said to be the most difficult jousting match in Italy – and called “the Olympics of equestrian competitions” – the race of the Quintana draws thousands of enthusiastic spectators.
Splendor reigns the night before when over seven-hundred personages in bejeweled and intricately-embroidered Baroque costumes as well as over sixty horses – also lavishly decked out – parade solemnly through the banner-draped Foligno streets and piazzas to the triumphal music of trumpets and drums.
Before the corteo storico (“parade of history”), the Folignati gather in the medieval taverne of their rioni for a propitious dinner of local specialties. One memorable year, a friend and I joined the locals of the Giotti rione (“best people – and best food!”, a Foligno acquaintance had told me) for dinner in their stone-vaulted taverna with blue and white (colors of the Giotti rione) embroidered banners draped over the entrance.
Inside, tense excitement within was palpable: Giotti had won the Quintana the previous year and all hoped for the rivincita (“comeback”) the following day. Would their knight, Massimo Gubbini, once again bring home the glory, il Palio (the banner) – to the Giotti?
Outside their taverna, Giotti personages in Baroque splendor – of blue and white shades, logicamente – chatted before their grand entrance into the main square at 10 pm, as part of the corteo storico. Their tailor, Franco Parigi – in costume himself – now and then adjusted a delicate lace collar of a stately dama. Signor Parigi proudly illustrated the history of his costume masterpieces for us: “this one is modeled on a painting of Velasquez… and this one was worn by a 17th-century Bourbon princess… and I designed this one from a gold-embroidered Baroque altar frontspiece.”
The evening was warm. The costumes were breath-taking but suffocatingly heavy and the starched lace collars like vises allowed little head movement to the women. The discomfort would be born for hours: the Folignates’ passione for their seventeenth century triumphing.
And any Saturday night discomfort for the Giotti nobility evaporated by the next morning: on the following Sunday, Massimo Gubbini, rode to the glory, winning the jousting match for the thirteenth year in a row. Jubilant all-night celebrations concluded at dawn in the Giotti taverna, with euphoria reigning as all fêted their preeminent “Lord of the rings.”
Massimo Gubbiotti rode to victory last year, too, bringing home the Palio (the flag of the winner) to his Giotti district for the thirteenth time.
Will he be “the Lord of the Rings” this year, too?
– See the Saturday night corteo storico of the Quintana – and feel the emotion: