Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Battle on the Bridge

As gondoliers and fans of Venetian rowing, we are blessed with different regatas and other rowing events to follow and in some cases even row in.

Some friends from Gondola Getaway just got back from the Vogalonga - an amazing thing to be part of. 

I can tell you from experience that witnessing the Regata Storica from a boat in the Grand Canal is simply indescribable.

But there are many other remarkable traditional events in other cities in Italy.
Some of you may have seen the horse race known as Il Palio, where traditionally dressed riders chase each other right through a piazza in Sienna. 
Il Palio was first run in the year 1701.

Recently I discovered another noteworthy event that takes place in Pisa.
This event also has centuries-old roots.
Sure, everyone knows Pisa for a certain leaning tower, but once a year, two teams of men do some leaning of their own - trying as hard as possible to push each other off a bridge.
This event is known in Italy as Il Gioco del Ponte, and it happened today.

No, they don't try to shove each other in the water. 
This is a sort of reverse tug-of-war where the two teams push against each other, using a central frame that travels back and forth on a platform with a central track. 
Whoever pushes the frame, and the other team,
all the way to the end of the bridge wins.

I've done my best to describe Il Gioco del Ponte - sometimes also called The Battle on the Bride.
Now go check it out for yourself.

First, here's their official website:
Il Gioco del Ponte

A concise look at what happens:

Some interesting views into the training and pride of the event:

Here's a nice capsule of the event:

Those were all from last year, but one of the best video captures I've seen comes from the 2010 contest:

The Gioco del Ponte just took place today, and as I write this it's getting late in Pisa.  Knowing a bit about the Italian way of living, I'm not surprised that we haven't seen a flood of new video clips up on the internet - There's a lot of celebrating going on right now in Pisa.  I just can't see a bunch of Pisani scurrying home to edit something together so they can upload it right now.

But I was able to find this news piece which has a video with some moments captured.
Tramontana vince il Gioco del Ponte alla "bella"

And here's the defining moment when the flag dropped in Pisa this year:

This reminds me a bit of the Regata Storica in Venice:
It's a huge event, one of the biggest spectacles of the year,
but it's not very well known beyond the borders of the country.
And yet there were 30,000 people watching this unique test of strength and endurance on a bridge in Pisa this year.

Watching the videos, I noticed many things.
I enjoyed the costumes, the pomp, the processions.
I noticed the strange paddle-like objects the athletes carried, which reminded me of our striped oars on the gondola.
The clever wedges under the toes of their shoes must help a lot.
I took it all in, thinking that maybe I'd like to be in Pisa next year in June.

And I also thought:
if you ran out of gas somewhere near Pisa, I'll bet one of these guys would be really handy in getting the car to the next petrol station.

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