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Il Palio di Oria
Photo: Torneo di Rioni (https://www.torneodeirionioria.it/)

Il Palio di Oria

Since 1967, Oria, Brindisi, has hosted a truly unique annual event. On the second weekend of August every year, the town plays host to the ‘Parade of Frederick II’, followed by the ‘Palio dei Rioni’ (Tournament of the four districts). The tournament is a battle re-enactment and competition rolled into one.

The celebrations begin on Saturday morning, with hundreds of participants dressing up as jesters, knights and nobles to follow a fictional Frederick II through the historic streets. The procession, split into the four districts, runs through the main streets of the town, with participants waving colourful flags. There is choreography on display with fire eaters and jugglers. It is very evocative and maintains a huge moment in the town’s history. The parade ends in Piazza Manfredi and signals the opening ceremony of the ‘Palio’.

In order to be crowned the winner, the athletes of Oria’s four districts (Castello, Lama, Judea and Santo Basilio) have to score the most points during five tests (comprised of ‘ram’, ‘barrel chest’, ‘race of the bridge’ ‘speed’ and ‘dexterity’), the order of which is decided by a raffle before the test.

The tests offer a test of strength. Each test offers four points for first place, three for second, two for third and one for last. Those who do not finish a test or or fail to arrive at the departure do not receive any points. If there is a draw, a tiebreaker takes place to decide the winner.

A rehearsal round ‘Challenge between knights’ has contestants warming up the crowd with medieval chivalrous challenges. First round ‘ram’ then has two athletes from each group carrying a ram 65 metres to smash a door, before running to the finish line with the team flag. Second round ‘barrel’ is similar: dragging an 80km for 60 metres, then finishing with a flag hoist. ‘Bridge race’ sees a contestant walk for 200 metres, withstanding many distractions, such as balance. The victor is the one who raises their flag first at the end. The final one is a race, with a final flag hoise at the end.

In the tournament, the participants re-enact one of the most fascinating and mysterious times in Apulian history by competing in very harsh medieval tests in an attempt to win the coveted ‘Palio’. The winner, representing a district of the town, is then celebrated during all the Carnival celebrations.

There’s a reason the tournament has continued to be successful every year. Not only does it bring the town together for one of the many Palios Italy plays host to, but it remembers a key part of Puglia’s history. Oria is an ancient Messapian city built over three hills. On the hills lies its magnificent castle, built by Frederick II and still in excellent ondition.

In 1225, Frederick II defeated the Normans, who had ruled over Oria for almost 200 years. The event originates from the 1225 tournament called by Frederick II in honour of his father-in-law to “amuse the loyal inhabitants of Orea” while waiting for his wedding.
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