Bravio delle Botti in Montepulciano
The Bravio delle Botti takes place on the last Sunday of August along the main alleys of the town centre of Montepulciano. It is an original challenge between the eight Contradas that compete for a painted cloth banner. The two athletes, called Spingitori, roll 80 kilos barrels in a uphill race for about 1800 metres along the main street of the town through the historical centre, until they reach the churchyard of the Duomo in Piazza Grande.
The word Bravio derives from the vernacular language Bravium, which is the actual name of the Panno, a beautifully painted banner bearing the image of the Patron Saint of the town - San Giovanni Decollato. The race takes place in honour of this saint and the Bravio is given to the winning Contrada as a prize.
The event is linked to a chapter of the local history dating back to 1373. In that year, the reform of the Municipal Statute dedicated the entire chapter 30 to the arrangements of the Palio in honour of the Patron of Montepulciano (August 29th). “... the Bravium must be of scarlet cloth worth at least 30 gold Fiorini ... anyone can send his horse to enter the race ... the race will run each year, on the named day, along the straight road that comes from the Villa della Strada and towards the Contrada delle Corolle. The race will continue up the road and straight across the gate of Gracciano in the direction of Cavina, and then up to Via Voltaia and Cagnano in the direction of the Santa Maria Church. From here it will follow the straight road of Collazzi and Coste entering the small gate under the house of Stefano and Jacobo, heading through the honourable street of the Mercanzia. The race will come to an end in the Piazza on the corner of the Pieve, where fish is sold. In that place, at that hour which to the Priors seems most suitable, on that day the above mentioned Bravio will be placed...”. The Bravio was disputed in a horse race until the 17th Century before being abolished most probably for reasons of public order.
The Contradas were mentioned for the first time in the fourth book of the Major and then again during the reform of the Statute in 1373. After this we find them again in a register of the Lira in 1407 and other registers estimated around 1400 and 1500. The today’s names of the Contradas are the same that have always been mentioned: Cagnano, Collazzi, Coste, Gracciano, Poggiolo, San Donato, Talosa, Voltaia. In the 1300’s the eight Contrads had been regrouped into three divisions: Santa Maria (consisting of Cagnano, Collazzi and San Donato); San Francesco (consisting of Coste, Talosa and Voltaia); Sant’Agostino (consisting of Gracciano and Poggiolo). It goes without saying that the names of the divisions come from three of the main churches in town.
Each Contrada had its own Society and a named leader, the Rector, and could administrate their own affairs independently. The _Rectors represented the Contrada particularly on feast days such as San Giovanni Decollato on August 29th or Sant’Agnese on May 1st, when big candles were devotedly donated to the saints. During these two important festivals for the community of Montepulciano, the attendance of the population was complete and the formation of the town’s management was huge, with the gonfalons, the notables, the mayor, the authorities, the judges, the councillors, the foreign officials and the town garrisons.
The history of the Contradas of Montepulciano gives us not only the knowledge of life in town during that period, but also of its urban settlements and developments. The oldest Contradas were surely the ones in the upper part of the town where they were considered borghi, hamlets - built-up areas out of town. Today we can see that the Contradas maintain the same nomenclature, colours, coats of arms, urban territories and, above all, the same ceremonial parade.
The recent history of the Bravio began in 1974 when when the parish priest Don Marcello Del Balio had the original and indeed successful idea of swapping the old horse race for a barrel race. The barrels are an important element for the economy of Montepulciano: thanks to them it is produced the famous Vino Nobile.
The Bravio is disputed on the Last Sunday of August. The suggestive ceremonies are carried out from 9.00 in the morning in Piazza Grande, the main square in Montepulciano. First the draw for the departure line, then the branding of the barrels, flag juggling, the consignment of the “Panno del Bravio” on behalf of the Council to the Magistrate of the Contradas, and the offering of the votive candles to San Giovanni Decollato in the cathedral.
At 3.00 PM the procession, consisting of more than 300 participants, commences through the historic centre. Finally at 7.00 PM, after the signal given by the strokes of the town hall bells, the barrels begin to roll on the stones, leaving from the Marzocco’s column. After a few minutes the Bravio will come to a conclusion, only one Contrada will be able to celebrate the victory and claim the Panno, while the others will display disappointment but always with great respect for the winner. A story that has repeated itself for 600 years.
The entire week prior to the main event is full of important appointments: every evening, from 9.00 PM to 11.00 PM there will be the official trial of the “Spingitori” and each Contrada from 8.00 PM will be open to welcome anyone who wishes with celebrations, dinners, games, music and... wine, of course!
Where: Montepulciano in the historical centre.
When: The last Sunday in August. Celebrations during the preceding week.
Admission: Free entrance during the week, Ticket on the Sunday for the main event.