At the end of June, the Quintana festival takes over Foligno and Baroque splendor reigns. The culminating moment of the festivities is the jousting match, rooted in the Roman history of the town, once called Fulginium. The Quintana was the area of the Roman army camp, site of the arduous training of the soldiers. Soldiers armed with swords or lances launched themselves at a target in the form of a soldier holding a ring, trying to run the sword through the ring, thus honing their accuracy.
Town documents date the first Quintana – then a jousting match for entertainment of the populace – to 1418, and in 1613, the Priors of Foligno issued a decree including the Quintana in Foligno’s pre-Lenten celebrations, Carnevale. Today, the ten competing knights – one for each district or rione of the city – gallop at breakneck speed on a challenging course, lance aimed at the Quintano statue holding three rings, progressively smaller (the smallest is just about 8 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 through the flag-decked Foligno streets and piazzas, accompanied by the triumphal music of trumpets and drums.
Before the corteo storico (“parade of history”), the Folignati gather in the medieval taverne of their rioni (districts) for a propitious dinner of local specialties. Last 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) flags fluttering over the entrance.
Outside the taverna, the Giotti rione tailor, Franco Parigi – in costume himself – now and then adjusted a delicate lace collar of a stately dama ready for the corteo storico.
Signor Parigi proudly illustrated his costumes – in shades of soft blues and various shades of whites – for me: “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 obviously incredibly heavy and the starched lace collars allowed little head movement. The discomfort would be born for hours: the Folignates’ undying passione for their seventeenth century history and traditions lives on.
By Anne Robichaud, the only American authorized as an Umbrian Regional tour guide. Read about her Umbrian hilltown tours, cooking classes in her home and in the US and her "memoirs of rural life" on www.annesitaly.com. Enjoy the many stories on her blog http://annesitaly.com/blog/