The Battle of the Bridge, a historic tradition of Pisa, is held annually on the last Saturday of June, after the renowned San Ranieri celebrations.
As the name indicated, this special event takes place on the central Ponte di Mezzo, one of the bridges that cross the Arno river in Pisa. All of the city's neighborhoods are divided into two teams, either the Mezzogiorno or Tramontana, depending on their position (south of Arno for the first, north of Arno for the second). The aim of the game is to conquer the side of the bridge occupied by the enemy through the position of an iron cart arranged on the bridge.
If you have never been to this event, believe me that it is worth your time to head to Pisa on this special occasion. The residents of Pisa cherish this game, whether they are combatants (or participants) or not.
The battle is just one night long, but preparations for this and all other related events continue all year long. Before the battle begins, in fact, the two troops march along the four Lungarni (the streets along the Arno), a wonderful parade with over 700 people dressed in magnificent 16th-century Spanish costumes.
It’s an emotional game, I can assure you that even if your’re not directly involved in this manifestation, you’ll breathe in the atmosphere of the battlefield!
So what are they doing?
The origins of this event date back to a thousand years ago, even if it wasn’t exactly the same game: after past periods when the event was held intermittently, the battle of the bridge begun to define clear rules and characteristics with no onterruption only during the last few decades. Each team (Tramontana and Meggiogiorno) is composed of 6 smaller teams, called Magistrature, aimed to give life to six battles. Obviously, the team that gains more victories wins the competition (if they are tied, the teams will compete another time - la bella, as we usually say in Italian).
A large iron cart is set up on the central part of the bridge, pushed on rails by two groups of twenty people guided by their respective Captains. The aim of the game is to conquer the enemy's side of the bridge (and consequently the flag bearing the enemy colors falls down). The car is locked on rails before the battle begins, then it’s unlocked so that it can be moved according to the power of the combatants.
The game could be the perfect occasion to visit Pisa in June and its popular tourist attractions, including the Lungarni and, of course, the Square of Miracles, where you'll find the cathedral, the famous Leaning Tower (which can be climbed all the way to the top), the Baptistery and the Cemetery (Camposanto).
I recommend not driving to Pisa during manifestations such as this, when all the city takes part in the event, too much traffic! There are two train stations in Pisa, well-connected to the rest of Tuscany and Liguria: Pisa San Rossore if you prefer visiting the Miracles Square before going to the Battle of the Bridge (the best choice according to me!), or Pisa Centrale, if you prefer instead to walk directly to the central bridge. Should you choose this option, don’t forget to pass through Corso Italia, the best street in Pisa for shopping!