The Palio della Balestra of Sansepolcro is an ancient tournament that has its roots in the Tuscan Renaissance and has been able to perpetuate itself over time, continuously since the 15th century. Today is held on the second Sunday of September when the crossbowmen of Sansepolcro face the friends-rivals of the Umbrian town of Gubbio. The Palio della Balestra is held continuously since 1594, but the oldest document where it is nominated dates back to 1461. The event, organized by the Società Balestrieri Sansepolcro, is the finale of the cultural events in honor of Sant’Egidio, patron of the city. The town of Sansepolcro, famous for being the birthplace of Piero della Francesca, can be considered one of the most fascinating examples of the Renaissance art for its elegance and sophistication of its architectural elements. The “Borgo di Piero”, during the days of the Palio della Balestra, revive the prestigious traditions, the atmosphere, the arts and crafts of the Renaissance, becoming one of the most beautiful stages, in the national historical events panorama.
The Palio commemorates the historic challenge between the two neighboring cities and it is recounted that Piero della Francesca was one of the archers who defended the “biturgensi” colors in 1453, demonstrating that, at the time, this military practice was quite developed. The exercise of “balestrare” reached its highest when it was considered a useful preparation to encourage shooting training of the citizens. This is why in many Italian cities during the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, were held shooting crossbow competitions, to have in fact, a trained military reserve for the defense of the city.
According to ancient tradition in the morning the herald reads the challenge notice, but the Palio begins only in the afternoon, with the parade of the two historical processions through the streets of Sansepolcro city centre. Trumpets, ladies and soldiers, more than four hundred participants, alternate in a blaze of color and music. At the entrance on Piazza Torre di Berta, enclosed by Renaissance palaces, the Sbandieratori (flag-wavers) perform in flags evolutions in honor of the quarters they represent. After that the Palio competition starts. In a shooting bench located 50 meters from the center said “Corniolo” alternate all archers of the two rival factions until the last “verretta” (arrow) marks the end of the tournament. Finally the judges retire along with the “Corniolo” to define the winner, which together with the historical parade will march through the streets of the city to receive honors and glory of victory.
The Palio della Balestra is a joyous occasion, a moment of gathering and sharing of an ancient folk custom and can be the perfect opportunity to explore Sansepolcro and the beauties of the surrounding area.