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Window on Italy - Time Travel to Medieval Days

Colleen Simpson

Each year in Piegaro, sometimes even two or three times a year, we get to travel back in time. One year gladiators roamed the streets of our village. In August, Piegaro went back to its 15th Century heritage as a glassmaking village when the Prince and Princess of Piegaro lived and ruled all the land from their magnificent palazzo.

Signor Bruno, of the cultural committee, was seen everywhere in the days leading up to the festival. The Museo del Vetro, the ancient glass museum, was a hive of activity as medieval costumes were steamed clean, buttons replaced and measurements taken for new additions. I was invited to choose my own costume from the many racks but I demured in order to take photographs.

We heard the drummers practice and we saw props of ancient weapons appear out of villagers' collections. Later Bruno will lead the procession as the Grand Master. His joy is infectious and I am persuaded to be in costume next year. I wonder what he has in mind for the one Americana in Piegaro? Will I get to be a princess?

Medieval Drummers

On the day of the festival, the excitement is palpable as the long procession winds through the streets with drummers and banners announcing the arrival of Piegaro royalty, their grand retinue and small children dance along with garlands in their hair.

I look forward each year to these festivals with anticipation. I get to see my neighbors and friends completely transformed from their workaday selves.

The golden boys of Piegaro, all friends, whom I call my "solare ragazzi", are costumed in velvet, even in the heat of August. My dearest friend, a stone mason named Omar becomes an avvocato complete with white ruffled shirt, velvet hat and long black robes. Andrea and Marco are handsome courtiers of the Prince.

The village grocer, Matteo, changes from his habitual jeans and tee shirt and usual reserve into a gentleman of great charm! It is so incredible to witness young men who love tradition as much as they like modernity utterly transformed and to live out, if only for a day, life as their ancestors knew it during medieval times.

Two boys manage to quickly strap on their horse costumes to play out a medieval joust. And surprise, surprise, the white knight beats out the black knight, who seems to enjoy his long death throes to the applause of us all!

Medieval Joust

Just about everyone in my adopted Italian family are present and accounted for in their new roles: beautiful Alessandra is a lady-in-waiting to the Princess and husband, Mauro, becomes the hooded executioner alongside his poor prisoner. Son Nicolo seems taller and handsomer this year in his costume as a page and magnificent Carlotta is paired with her fiancé, Lucio, as a beautiful royal couple in matching costumes, who will later join the other couples in a Renaissance dance. It seems that the whole village is in the cast of medieval characters. From the smallest children to village elders, everyone has a role to play.

Medieval Procession

For several weeks, Carlotta practiced with the children of the village for their roles in the procession and their dramatic presentation in the piazza. I am impressed each year as they take their roles seriously and perform the complicated dances with precision. The girls appear with garlands and ribbons in their hair, young beauties. I can see in my mind's eye these girls in later years dressed in the costumes of their elders as they graduate into ladies-in-waiting.

The central piazza is packed with the cast of costumed villagers and hundreds of spectators. For one brief day we are time travelers. It is easy to imagine how our beautiful walled village looked in the 15th Century when lords and ladies mingled with the peasants who come into town to celebrate an August day of dancing, feasting and jousting! The ancient past is never far away in a medieval village.

Medieval Festival Piegaro

Colleen's Window on Italy is a series of monthly articles on Slow Travel. Read the article "Colleen's Window on Italy - Introduction" for more information.

Colleen Simpson lives most of the year in Piegaro, Umbria and operates L'Antica Vetreria (www.anticavetreria.net): a villa and four apartments for vacationing guests. At other times, you can find her in beautiful Seattle.

© Colleen Simpson, 2011

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