Palio della Balestra (Crossbow challenge)
In the evolution of weapon technology, the bow came first and the crossbow came after. If the device for fling the arrows is the same, what makes the difference and the benefit of the crossbow is the wooden shaft that supports the arch and allows to aim through a mechanical tool.
The first appearances of crossbows - which seem to have Arab origins- are documented with the Crusade of 1098. The new weapon proved immediately to be deadly efficient - the bolts had a never-seen-before range of about 150 metres - so much that Pope Innocent II, during the Lateran Council of 1139, forbade the use against the “faithful Christians”, implicitly allowing that could certainly be used against “infidels Mohammedan” or heretics.
At Sansepolcro the use of the crossbow, not only for war purposes, dates back to the first half of the fourteenth century, a date that puts the city in the Valtiberina among the ones with a more ancient tradition, like Gubbio, San Marino, Massa Marittima and Lucca.
But there's more: a census conducted in 1453 has documented that in that year at Sansepolcro there were 157 crossbows and 77 “scoppietti” (a more modern variation of crossbow). Well, one of them belonged to Piero di Betto, better known as Piero della Francesca, the great painter who clearly enjoyed, together with his fellow citizens, using his crossbow during the annual challenge against Gubbio.
At the end of the sixteenth century, with the discovery and use of gunpowder, the crossbow ended its military use but continued to maintain a symbolic and entertainment function.
At Sansepolcro people say that since 1441, only one year was impossible make the challenge: in 1798 it had been impossible to gather the usual sixty liras required to bear the costs of organization, otherwise it has always been done in a way that the thread of continuity was not broken.
It was so even during World War II: in 1944, among a lot of difficulties, was organized a challenge with only one crossbowman - a woman - in order not to lose the continuity of tradition.
When: The second Sunday in September.