Balestro del Girifalco
The 14th Century was for Massa Marittima the period of greatest economic prosperity, thanks to the generosity of its soil - rich in iron, pyrite, quartz, silver and copper - and was considered one of the biggest dispensers of minerals from all over Italy.
The city had about twenty thousand hard working and well organized inhabitants and it was one of the most populated in Tuscany. Its organization culminated into the “Codice Minerario” the “Mining Code”, a manuscript dated 1325 (one of the first codes that regulated labour in Europe) with complex matters relating with the excavating, exploitation and ownership of mineral deposits.
Such a rich and active city was usually the target of attacks from the nearby cities, including Pisa, Siena and later Florence. To protect its borders a good army was needed, always able to deal with any invaders that could unexpectedly appear from anywhere in the horizon. During the rare times of peace professionals of war were to remain in operation and train continuously: “armeggiare” as they say in Tuscany.
To regulate this, in 1476 the municipal authorities of Massa Marittima agreed to: “...give some good exercise to the youngsters and that four times a year a tournament with crossbows should be made... that who will be the winner will be given a new steel crossbow with rotor...”.
Still today in two occasions - on the Sunday closest to May 20, the day of birth of San Bernardino and the second Sunday August - the crossbowmen of the three districts of Massa Marittima are committed in a bloodless battle.
In the extraordinary scenario of Piazza Garibaldi, with the Gothic cathedral, the municipal building and the pretorian palaces as a background, a target depicting a grifalco is raised (a rapacious that is said to have lived in the forests around Massa Marittima).
From a distance of 36 meters the 24 crossbowmen (eight for each district) have one single arrow, that they call verretta.
The evocative shows with historical costumes give to the event a suggestive background very much appreciated by locals who really care to win the crossbow as well as by the lots of people who come specially to see this tournament twice a year.
Where: Massa Marittima. Piazza Garibaldi
When: The Sunday following the 20th of May and the second Sunday in August