The Gioco del Ponte will take place on Saturday 24 June 2023. It is one of the highlights of the Giugno Pisano, together with the Luminara and the Palio.
Every last Saturday in June, twelve teams of twenty players each face off, pushing with force and using their legs and necks, but not their arms, a very heavy trolley running on rails, positioned in the centre of the Ponte di Mezzo on the Lungarni.
The objective is to advance until the flag of the enemy faction falls. The Gioco del Ponte involves six fights and a possible tie-breaker.
An ancient tradition, but today's challenge probably stems from the ancient game of Mazzascudo, a very violent fight that took place in the Piazza delle Sette Vie, or Piazza dei Cavalieri. A battle-hardened city like Pisa had to keep its men constantly trained. The first version of the Gioco del Ponte would be none other than this fight held on the Ponte Vecchio, today's Ponte di Mezzo.
Today, the 12 magistrates, divided into two parts of 6 magistrates each, called Mezzogiorno and Tramontana, no longer face each other with swords, shields and the violence that characterised the ancient version, but the strong desire to prevail in a challenge that gives great lustre to the winning teams persists.
Challenges can last from a few seconds to over twenty minutes: that is how long it can take for a judiciary to overwhelm its direct opponent. In order not to miss these adrenalin-packed moments and to have the best view, the Pisans pour onto the embankments of the Lungarni very early, while the parade of more than 700 participants in 16th-century costumes is still in progress, acting as an appetiser to the main event of the day. For one evening, in short, the lungarni host a spectacle of great scenic suggestion that takes one back to other eras, still alive in the spirit of the city, still rightly felt as a boast.
At 6.00 p.m. the historical procession is scheduled to begin at 'battle pace', starting from Piazza Guerrazzi (Mezzogiorno) and Largo Parlascio (Tramontana) and arriving on the Ponte di Mezzo.
This will be followed by the declaration of intent by the ambassadors of the two sides and the blessing of the ranks and insignia. The figures will then return to their respective quarters. As per tradition, the municipal palaces, Gambacorti and Pretorio, and the Ponte di Mezzo will be adorned with renewed scenic decorations.
7.00 p.m. Battle on the Bridge, the Tramontana and Mezzogiorno Parties challenge each other on the Ponte di Mezzo.
For the complete calendar of the Giugno Pisano: