Thrush festival of Montalcino
On the last weekend of October the atmosphere is tense. The weekend is filled with pageantry, history, processions, rivalry and excitement. The four neighbourhoods of Montalcino close ranks, wear their own colours, and, as the hours pass and festivities begin, the rivalry and passions of the citizens reach fever pitch, culminating in a hotly contested archery tournament on Sunday afternoon.
In this tournament the ancient archery skills of the Montalcinesi are tested, and the winning archers bring glory and honour to their neighbourhood.
Thousands of visitors arrive in Montalcino to witness this passionate festival. If you would like to be here to share this extraordinary event, booking is absolutely essential as accommodation is limited and you must be in Montalcino before the festival begins – or face a several kilometre walk uphill on the day of the Tournament – because your car will be parked away down in the valley!
There are four neighbourhoods of Montalcino. They are called Quartiere, and their names are: Pianello Travaglio Ruga and Borghetto. Each Quartiere has its own territory inside the walls of the village, its own headquarters, its own emblem and flag, its own colours, and a team of archers.
The Reading of the Proclamation: Saturday dawns, and already the air is filled with the sound of beating drums. The citizens of Montalcino gather below the windows of the ancient town hall and, to the sound of the trumpets, hear the proclamation and the nomination of the archers who will shoot in the tournament tomorrow.
Archery Trials are held in the afternoon to determine the firing sequence of the archers tomorrow, and also to determine the ultimate shooting distance.
The Dinner for the Archers
Each Quartiere prepares for a night of feasting and chanting in their neighbourhood at the traditional dinner to celebrate the tournament and to cheer the archers to victory. A four course dinner of Montalcinesi cuisine will be prepared by the Quartiere cooks, and served by the youngsters. More than two hundred people from each Quartiere will sit down to dinner, and end the evening with chanting and singing for their archers.
An All Day Medieval Feast
Beginning early this morning a delicious feast of Wine and Food takes place inside the Fortress keep. The food is cooked in temporary kitchens the Quartiere erect inside the fortress for the weekend. The smell of bruschetta, crostini, grilled polenta, many pasta dishes, roasted meats, soups, steaks and sausages which are roasted over open braziers, fills the air. The Feast will go on all day long. Of course, Rosso di Montalcino and Brunello di Montalcino is sold by the glass. No sense in eating the cuisine of Montalcino without enjoying the wines as well!
The Morning Pageant
By mid morning white Tuscan Chianini cattle and the Trescone dancers gather in Piazza Cavour ready for the procession. Next, more than 100 Montalcino citizens dressed in wonderful 14th century medieval costumes begin the historic pageant, accompanied by drummers and trumpeters, and make their way to the Piazza to pay homage and bring gifts from the bountiful woods to the Lady of the Fortress. The pageant proceeds to the Church of Sant Egidio for the Benediction.
The Sagra del Tordo Lunch
A delicious lunch is offered in each Quartiere, guests of honour being those who have participated in the morning pageant, including the archers. It is a celebration of the traditional plates of Montalcino, a time to be among your neighbourhood friends, and to cheer the archers on to victory.
The Afternoon Pageant
Everyone is ready for the main parade of the day. The air is filled with excitement as the pageant winds its way through the village on the way to the fortress. It takes more than an hour for the pageant to reach the archery range, and they pass through the village to the sound of drums and trumpets, following behind the ancient Standard of Montalcino born high above their heads.
The Archery Tournament
The silver trumpets rise and the drums beat as excitement reaches fever pitch. The archery range is ready, the judges are ready, the pageant has arrived, and now the archers must test their skills. Two archers from each Quartiere contest the honour of being the most accurate, bravest archers of Montalcino. Two archers will bring glory and honour to their Quartiere.
The winning archers and their supporters make their way, chanting and singing, back to their Quartiere to ring the victory bells.