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Cortona Medieval Marriage and Joust

24 Jun

Our last weekend in Cortona was filled with traditional Medieval customs, celebrated annually by the locals.

Saturday evening, the town reenacted the 1397 marriage of Francesco Casali, Lord of Cortona, to Antonia Salimbeni, a noble woman of Siena, complete with flag-throwers, musicians, and a drawing for the shooting order for Sunday’s crossbow competition.

But let’s step back for a moment. Our great friend, Ivan, (Il Pozzo Galleria) has acted in the role of Francesco for as long as anyone can remember, along with his daughter, Marta, who annually serves as the lovely Antonia. We stopped in to see Ivan midday and were fortunate enough to experience not only the intricate detail of their costumes but also the weight.

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And then this… gym shoes and all!

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It’s hard to describe the beautiful detail, complexity and weight of these costumes, and true to form, the evening would be the hottest of the year! I was sweating just thinking about it. But on to the evening…

Drum roll, please!

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This year, the bride-to-be arrived in a chianina drawn carriage, much to the delight of the patrons.

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After being helped out of her coach by her lord in waiting,

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she was introduced to the appreciative crowds.

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As is customary for all important Cortona events, traditional flag throwers accompanied the ceremony.

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Before the final entertainment began, the lights unexpectedly went out, ©blogginginitaly.com

but as if on cue, in came the flame throwers, so it was a perfect ending to a wonderfully entertaining evening.

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As the people dispersed, we bumped into a very hot, tired, but always happy to greet people with a smile, Ivan. 

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Sunday was another hot day, both weather and competition wise for the Archidado. Peccioverardi won after 4 playoffs, 24-23 over S. Andrea.

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Afterward, they paraded around town for their well-fought victory march, carrying the near bulls-eye arrow.

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One final thought about the weekend…

Each year, Ivan tells us it’s his last, yet for those of us who know him, it’s hard to imagine that anyone else could fill his shoes!

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Medieval Market Cortona

4 Jun

June arrived in Cortona and brought along not only warm sunny weather but also the first of several annual summer festivals. Last weekend was the Medieval Market filled with games, costumes, food, shops and entertainment. Here’a a sampling…

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And of course, great sunsets,

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and great friends!

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Ciao,
Judy

 

Re-entry!

11 Apr

We returned to Cortona over two weeks ago, and we’ve been busy.  While sometimes it seems as though we have the town to ourselves, 

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the weekends remind us that Cortona is a “happening” place.

Occasionally, however, there are “happenings” we’d rather avoid.

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We managed to get “fined” on a 10 minute bus ride from Camucia to Cortona. Longer story shortened, our to-and-from rides were all on one ticket, which we validated each way. However, we didn’t realize, or frankly just forgot, that we had to validate the single ticket twice each way, and consequently, we were fined by the very occasional inspectors who boarded our bus one stop from Piazza Garibaldi, our final destination. Yes, we paid for both of us, and yes, we thought we had correctly validated the ticket, but none of that mattered. Word to the wise: validate, validate, validate, or pay 60 euros!!!

But as always, our days and nights are filled with great friends and great food, some  shown here.

During our second week, we spent several days in Lucca. Although it rained each day, we were able to walk the wall, do some sight seeing, visit with a friend, and find some great restaurants.

On the way back, we stopped in Firenze as we had been invited to visit the Carabinieri Training School. Len just couldn’t resist.

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A few days ago, we drove with friends to a medieval town in Umbria called Narni. There are hundreds of towns like this in Italy, each with its own history and legends, and usually an interesting fact for which they are known. For Narni, it is being very close to the geographic center of Italy.

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On Monday of this week, we picked up our car, this time a Fiat Panda.

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The weather has not been great, but mostly I feel like her… I’m here and I’m happy!

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And today, before the rains fell, we drove through the Tuscan countryside, as if driving through a painting, and witnessed, once again, the stunning landscape and the ever-spectacular views that always bring a smile to my face. 

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Ciao,
Judy

Lecce

8 May

Lecce, our last of the three-city trip south, is a town of over 95,000 people located in Puglia. It is well-known for its Baroque architecture, a style that began in the late 16th century and is often characterized by large proportions, twisting columns, theatrical effects, bronze and gilding, and extensive use of tromp-l’oeil. 

We entered the historical center via Porta San Biagio (St. Blaise Gate).

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and were immediately met with visions of baroque architecture.

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The Chiesa di Santa Croce, (the Basilica), was begun in 1353 and eventually completed by 1695.

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The church has a richly decorated façade with animals, statues, grotesque figures and vegetables, and a large rose window.

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Side altars are adorned with an abundance of Baroque columns and theatrical effects,

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while the chapel of St. Antonio is a great example of gilding.

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Lecce is a city where old meets “new”:

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The Roman 2nd century amphitheater was able to seat more than 25,000 people. It is now half-buried because other monuments were built above it over the centuries. The theatre is currently used for different religious and arts events.

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The biggest surprise came when we found out our hotel, Torre del Parco, is one of the medieval symbols of Lecce. It was erected in 1419 by the then-18 year old prince of Lecce, Giovanni Antonio Del Balzo Orsini.

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The tower, standing more than 75 feet, is surrounded by a ditch in which bears (the heraldic symbol of the Orsini del Balzo) were reared.

The whole complex was the seat of Orsini’s tribunal and of a mint, and after Giovanni Antonio’s death, it became a residence for the Spanish viceroys. Over the intervening years, and with the addition of acreage, it functioned as many historical places, including a grand tribunal, a palazzo, and even a prison.

From 1992 – 2006, the current restoration took place and it was reopened as a small private hotel, banquet facility, spa, meeting center, and just wonderful place to relax.

We visited the tower and were surprised by what we found…

a chapel,

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modern meeting space,

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small banquet rooms,

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and an interesting antique carriage. (Thanks, Susan, for posing.)

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The bridge from the tower to the hotel facilities crosses one of the main roads in town,

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and provides several spaces for relaxing and wine sipping.

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The hotel grounds, complete with palms and flowers everywhere, were a total surprise.

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After sight-seeing all day, and since it was our last night, we decided to “eat in” and enjoy the surroundings.

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Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit the spa, but the made-to-order breakfast and freshly squeezed blood orange juice were perfect for our last morning.

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Alberobello Trulli, Matera Caves, and the loveliness of Lecce, three amazing locations in southern Italy offering thousands of years of history, beauty and intrigue – so very worth a visit.

Ciao,
Judy

 

S. Margherita Festival Cortona

21 May

This weekend, the people of Cortona celebrated the feast of S. Margherita, Cortona’s patron saint, and kicked off the two weeks of the Medieval Giostra dell’Archidado.

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Events began Friday night with the Colata dei ceri, or the casting of the candles, a religious practice that dates back to 1325. At the time, wax was collected and used by churches for candle making and also sold as a source of income.

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Locals dressed in traditional costumes of the time and processed into Piazza Repubblica accompanied by drummers and flag bearers.

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S. Margherita was eventually led into the piazza

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and a few events from her life were reenacted.

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If you look closely in the pink part of the photo, you will see a headsman or executioner. After Margherita was willing to sacrifice her life in place a convicted criminal, her followers cried out, “She is a saint!” and the criminal’s life was spared.

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Saturday was the Offerta dei ceri or the offering of the candles. Large candles were carried into the piazza and blessed by the bishop.

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Each quartiere or neighborhood of Cortona was represented in a procession that portrayed nobility, religious and workers of the time.

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Following the blessings, the flag bearers delighted the crowds with their skills.

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Then the candles were taken to the Basilica of Santa Margherita.

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On Sunday morning, several masses were held at the Basilica. We walked up Via Santa Croce…

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where beautiful mosaics of the stations of the cross are built into the wall.

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S. Margherita died in 1297 in a room behind the old church where she had lived the last years of her life. Over the years, the beautiful Basilica of Santa Margherita was rebuilt in her honor.

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Her body is preserved in a silver casket on the altar. She was canonized by Pope Benedict XIII on 16 May 1728.

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On my way out of the Basilica, I turned once again to admire its beauty, said one more quick prayer, and as I headed toward the door, a gust of wind blew it open. Really.

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Such a wonderful weekend and such an interesting way to understand and celebrate this important part of Cortona’s history.

Ciao,
Judy

Medieval Jousters on Horses in Cortona

22 Oct

For days, we had heard that the horses were coming, yet no one I spoke with knew why. Today, as with many days in Cortona, we were surprised and delighted with a colorful Medieval spectacle.

As overheard in the piazza, the nearby city of Arezzo has been highly victorious in jousting competitions this year. They came to Cortona today, dressed in their finest and with their victors high on horseback, to give thanks to their patron saint, Margherita. One of the participants told me this was a festival of adoration to their patron saint in appreciation for their success this year.

From our house, I heard the drummers and arrived just in time to see them enter the piazza from Via Roma.

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A few minutes later, the horses and jousters appeared in full matching Medieval regalia.

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Once the horses took their places,

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the flag wavers entered and all watched as they performed.

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In Italy, flag waving and throwing is a skill learned by the young and perfected over many years. It is an important part of many of the Medieval festivals and ceremonies, and one that requires years of practice.

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When the performance was finished, they joined the dignitaries on the grand steps of the Municipio for the speeches of gratitude.

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Following the ceremony in the piazza, the parade moved down Via Nazionale, the main and only flat street of Cortona.

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Their ultimate destination was the beautiful Santa Margherita Church at the top of Cortona –

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where the saint lies in glass at the foot of the altar.

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In towns and cities all over Italy, ancient customs live on in the hearts, minds and practices of the people who received them from their ancestors and pass them on to future generations. It’s easy to get caught up in the pageantry and imagine days gone by. No matter how often I see one of these, it’s always quite a spectacle to behold.

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Ciao,
Judy

Note: Click on any picture to enlarge.

 

 

September Days in Cortona

18 Sep

Autunno, or autumn, is my favorite time of year in Cortona. The days are shorter, the winds are cooler, and the tide of tourism transforms.  It is a calmer time of year that lends itself well to contemplating all that meets the senses.

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And endless antiquities:

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Autumn – The third season of the year, when crops and fruits are gathered and leaves begin to fall.

A good time to take time to ponder.

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

Lucignano Tuscany

10 Apr

Yesterday, Len and I took a ride to the lovely town of Lucignano with friends. It was a nice spring day and I think we were the only visitors in town. In fact, it seemed as though we were the only people in town.

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When we parked the car, I realized we had briefly visited here 5 years ago. This post includes some of the research from my original post, with some updates and some new photos.

Lucignano, a remarkably preserved medieval walled village, is laid out in elliptical rings.

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This beautiful town sits 414 metres above sea level and offers its visitors a trip back in time.

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Although Lucignano sits between Siena and Arezzo, it came under Florentine control in the 1500s, when a great deal of construction ensued. Today, one can still see the Puccini’s Fortress; Vasari’s 1568 sanctuary of Madonna della Querca; the Cappucini convent, c.1580; and several churches including Piazza S. Francesco with the church of S. Francesco in the background, and

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Chiesa della Collegiata, c.1594.

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In addition, the Museo Civico, left, offers many artistic treasures including the L’albero della vita, or tree of life, a gilded and jeweled tree holding a crucified figure.

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On the village’s website, http://www.comune.lucignano.ar.it,  Lucignano is described as “a pearl of the valdichiana, a small village that represents one of the more extraordinary examples of medieval urban planning for its system of elliptic rings…” Today, the village continues its agricultural and artisan traditions and produces products ranging from olive oil and honey to ceramics and gold jewelry. In addition, should you wish to purchase inlaid furniture or have a piece in need of repair, the skilled artists of Lucignano are ready to oblige.

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Five years ago, we saw this written on the window of a wine shop, and I was happy to see it again.

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Wine is the poetry of the earth

And five years ago, we found this sign, but not the restaurant.

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This time, we found the restaurant, and although it was closed, we found the nice people.

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A wonderful way to spend the afternoon, strolling with friends through a beautiful ancient city, rich with history and culture…

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making new friends,

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and not even needing to close the door on our way out.

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Ciao,
Judy

Spoleto and Don Matteo

7 Oct

On Tuesday, we headed to the walled medieval hill town of Spoleto in southern Umbria. We had decided to visit because of its ancient history and also because an Italian show we watch, Don Matteo, is being filmed there. The episodes, in Italian with English subtitles, help us learn Italian and are even more fun to watch when we are familiar with the shooting locations. The first eight seasons were shot in Gubbio, which we visited last year.

Spoleto’s first Roman settlements date to around 240 BC, and most of the historical sites are in the upper part of the town. Fortunately, the weather cooperated and we were able to walk miles through the town and enjoy some pretty spectacular views.

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The upper part of the town is called the Centro Storico, or Old Town. Here you find the Piazza del Duomo, a sprawling piazza at the base of a beautiful stairway.

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The original Duomo was built in the 12th century with a Romanesque facade, however, it was remodeled during the Renaissance and now has beautiful pink stone and colorful  mosaics.

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The inside is equally impressive.

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Sitting majestically above the town is the medieval Rocca Albornoziana fortress, built in the 14th century on the foundation of the Roman acropolis. Once a seat for local governors, in 1800 it was turned into a jail and used as such until the 20th century.  Today it houses a museum and also hosts summer performances.

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From this vantage point, there is an incredible view of the 750 foot Bridge of Towers, or Ponte delle Torri, a 13th century aqueduct that crosses a deep gorge,

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as well as this panoramic view of the valley below.

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There are elevators and escalators that reach the various levels of town. Although we enjoyed the walk up, we were also happy to have SIX long escalators return us to the lower part of town.

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Before dinner, we walked another area of the town and saw the ancient Teatro Romano.

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As we strolled, the setting sun was splashing the sky with its color palette.

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The scene so perfect, we felt as if we were on a movie set.

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It was definitely time for appertivo…

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with the most spectacular view…(photo is untouched)!

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Even the doves were happy.

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And now for our surprise encounter. I mentioned that Don Matteo is being filmed in Spoleto, and we found this billboard.

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While walking up the stairs to the Duomo, we both sighted a familiar person dressed in his usual black attire and baseball cap. It was, to our amazement,  Terrence Hill, or as we know him, Don Matteo. Really! A pretty incredible coincidence since he was one of the reasons we had come to Spoleto.

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Thanks, Don Matteo, for spending a few minutes with us and making our visit to Spoleto one we will always remember! Spoleto – a check off our bucket list with an unexpected and very happy memory!

Ciao,

Judy

 

La Compagnia Arcieri della Civetta

5 Oct

The Archidado Joust, which occurs the second Sunday of June in Cortona, traces its origins back to the Middle Ages. It was created in 1397 to celebrate the wedding the Lord of Cortona to a noble woman from Siena. For several weeks in June, town’s people are dressed in medieval style and banners are hung representing the various quarters of the town. Competition is fierce for the crossbow event.

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But how does one learn to use a crossbow? Like other sports, it requires years and years of practice and training, often passed down from parent to child. To assist in this learning, The Compagnia Arcieri della Civetta (Bowmen of Owl Association) was established in July 2010.

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Its purpose is “to practice and spread archery by using historical bows and learning everything about this discipline, from knowing different timbers, knowing how to use hand crafted bows made by skilled archers, how to make arrows, and how to shoot them both towards fixed or moving targets.”

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The Association participates in tournaments in many towns all over Italy, and for the second year, in Cortona.

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Although the weather didn’t participate, the costumed participants put on quite a show.

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The Bowmen move in assigned groups and have specific times to attempt each target. Creative and challenging objects are placed around the town, some with moving targets such as below. Here, a string is pulled and the large black disc swings as a pendulum.

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Others are stationary, but no less difficult, as in needing to shoot though two openings to hit the target from quite a distance away.

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Some targets are placed at the end of tiny viccoli or streets; here a father is shielding his young bowmen from the rain…

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as others cheered them on.

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Participants carefully checked their status and timing at each station.

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After shooting, bowmen would examine their results and retrieve their arrows.

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as some of the junior members just tried to stay dry and warm.

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Later in the afternoon, the participants gathered and the winners were announced. A new event in an ancient city, reminding us of medieval times gone by.

Ciao,

Judy

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