La Balestra

May 8, 2012 / Events
Assisi, Umbria
In Umbria, you know spring is in the air when the balestrieri (“cross-bowers”) compete in the piazzas seated behind their crossbows, one eye closed, taking aim. La Compagnia Balestrieri di Assisi is integral part of the wondrous pageantry of Assisi’s early May festival, il Calendimaggio, celebrating spring.

I balestrieri gathered in Piazza Santa Chiara recently in a pre-Calendimaggio competition, some in red tunics designating their allegiance to la Parte di Sotto (“Lower Assisi”), while la Parte di Sopra (“Upper Assisi”) is in blue. The crossbows were lined up along the railing enclosing the piazza, nose down and spectators leaning on the barriers admired the intricate carvings on the walnut stocks. In Gubbio, crossbowers often carve their own stocks but Assisi’s crossbows are the work of Dino Perla, noted maestro d’armi (“master weapons craftsman”).

The crowd applauded as the bolt of young Diego’s crossbow pierced the target within a hairline of a bullseye. In crimson tunic and black tights, Diego cranked his crossbow for another shot as fellow balestrieri congratulated him and proffered advice for his next shot. The crossbow launches the bolt at a force of over a ton and although now a weapon used only for sport, evoking Italy’s medieval past, it was once the most devastating weapon a single soldier could fire. In fact, in the 12th-century, Pope Innocent II banned the use of the crossbow “by Christians against Christians.” (!)

Founded in 1980, La Compagnia Balestrieri di Assisi is now 100 members strong ranging in age from eighteen to sixty. I asked Sergio, senior crossbower, why a young person aspires today to be a balestriere.

“This is a sport centered on a re-evaluation of our history and every crossbower does not just aim at excellence in shooting the crossbow: everyone also researches the historical roots of the crossbow. This is all about passione, pura passione.”

Anne Robichaud

by Anne Robichaud

An authorized Umbrian tour guide, Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970’s so rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for her. See Umbria from “the inside”: join her May 2017 ten-day tour centered on discovering Umbria, Anne’s Umbria.

See for more on her Umbria tours. Do see for news on the Assisi apartment – and Assisi countryside guest house – she and Pino now rent out.

Anne writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. Read about her annual U.S. Feb/Mar cooking classes and lectures, as well as her numerous Italy insights on her blog.

9 Responses to “La Balestra”

  1. Sandra


    Oh no! Just missed this one, but looking forward to seeing you soon for the Infiorate in Spello. Can’t wait!!

  2. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    sad however we (Italiani) learn to kill from the beginning and make sport of it. I’d rather cook!

  3. Sandi Spector

    Another fabulous article by Annie R. Definitely can feel the passion & love for the area & it’s people. Grazie

  4. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    CR…. as a Couco, I’d rather cook! Food brings people together,war and warring divides. The Italian people love to gather together and talk. Why not emphasize that side of our glorious culture?

  5. Judy Pusateri

    Sounds like an interesting time. Would like to see it next time I’m in Italy. There are so many wonderful traditions – Cortona has a wonderly medievil fair. I love to be a part of these happy times.

  6. Paulette

    How can I begin to tell you how much I enjoyed Calendimaggio last weekend! I’ll never be able to describe all the lasting impressions I have of the people in Assisi. I particularly want to thank you for providing your clients with wonderful information and passion, the latter being the soul of my time with you and in Italy. Grazie mille!! Paulette

  7. Paulette

    I highly recommend visitors to enjoy the feste throughout Italy. If your travels bring you to Assisi – you must get in touch with Anne, to hire her for her in-depth tours of the Umbrian highlights.


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