The Sartiglia, living the tradition in Oristano
Around Carnival you will see a lot of activity in Sardinia when old traditions come alive in the streets of many towns and villages. You will see scary demonic figures with huge bells on their backs dancing by, you will see demons with goatshaped masks and horns, fair dressed men with whips controlling the evil, all rooted in traditions of the remote past. You can also find the carnival organized with masks and allegorical floats like the famous Viareggio Carnival or the Venice Carnival, but these have a much more recent origin. An old tradition going back, not as far as prehistory, but nonetheless hundreds of years, is the magnificent event of the Sartiglia in Oristano, where colourfully dressed horsemen measure their abilities. This event takes place on sunday and tuesday, two days the town of Oristano is completely under the spell of sa Sartiglia.
Even when you have seen the films on YouTube, or followed the Sartiglia via the web or on live television on the day itself in previous years, you will still remain utterly impressed when present at the event itself. You can almost touch the proud horsemen, you can look their horses in the eyes, hear them breath widening their nostrils, you can smell their tense bodies, all under the cheering of the public and the deafening drum rolls that will boil up your adrenaline. You become inexorably part of the event, connected to the fate of the riders who will try to pierce the star with their sword and who will do their utmost best to stand out that day to become a champion of the people. Ofcourse su Componidori is the main figure, the captain who will lead the day.
You don't know what to expect? Don't worry, everybody is willing to explain you what is going on, what will happen next. Just like what happened to us when we first arrived on sunday and parked our car. We were just in time to see su Componidori, Giorgio Sanna, leaving the house for the dressing (Vestizione). Accompanied by music and the women carrying the dress and accessories su Componidori walked to the place where the ritual dressing would take place. It was not possible for us to see the Vestizione itself where long before his arrival a large crowd had gathered, but we followed the procession. Once su Compinodori was inside we left to return to the town center. There were a lot of stalls with all sorts of food, drinks and traditional handicrafts. Several grills were steaming with sausages, filling the air with temptation at lunch time. In fact we could not resist the panini nor the pizza al taglio.
The weather was good that sunday, it had not rained. At the beginning of the first part of the event we managed to find a spot at the start in Piazza Mannu. We watched the procession of Eleonora d'Arborea with the medieval dresses and after that the arrival of the horsemen lead by su Componidori. It was a magnificent view, these riders, so colourfully dressed and masked, especially su Componidori and his two companions. We remained until the first three riders departed from the start. We had tickets for the tuesday and we would return.
On monday it rained and it was expected to rain also on tuesday. We were worried that we might have missed an opportunity by leaving too early on sunday. We arrived in time on tuesday to hear that the Vestizione of the tuesday had been anticipated and that the start would be anticipated as well. Already people were taking their seats. We managed to have our seats fairly near to the star although it turned out that the downside was the grid at eye-height which inhibited a free view. The first part of the Corsa alla Stella we watched from our seats, but then I moved to the side where the platform was empty and could take pictures without hindering others. Only once or twice we had to put up our umbrella.
The crowd was particularly fond of su Componidori of the Gremio dei Falegnami this year because it was one of the rare occasions that a woman, Valentina Uda, was the captain. She headed the procession of riders as they passed in front of us. The first act was the crossing of the swords with her second (su Segundu), three times near the star. Then the ring stabbing contest could begin. First su Componidori and her companions, then Giorgio Sanna and his companions. Not all riders would get the opportunity because there were over 120 competitors divided in forty teams of three riders. One by one the riders would be invited to have their try by the sound of trumpets and drum-rolls.
We watched the first part, in total 26 riders pierced the star against 15 that sunday. Unfortunately su Componidori did not manage to take the star, but she had taken a star on sunday. Every rider that took the star was cheered loudly by the crowd and decorated with a silver or gold star (for two stars taken) by the president of the foundation or other well-known people. It was usually an opportunity to make pictures of the riders and their horses from close-by. At the end of the first part su Componidori took up su Stoccu, the lance, and tried to take the star but did not succeed. The first part was officially closed by sa Remada, the blessing with the staff of violets by su Componidori gallopping through the street lying backwards in the saddle, which was performed particularly well by Valentina Uda to the delight of the spectators.
It was the sign for the crowd to start moving to the next scene, the road where the riders would show off their skills in teams of three. Unfortunately we were held up and did not reach our seats in time. We managed only after some time to get seats at the end of the road but there was not a great view of the pariglie. It was getting dark too. When the second part was over all riders, headed by su Componidori, paraded up and down the street under the cheers of the crowds, throwing their flower decorations (rosette) in the public.