“Palio dei barchini” – The “punt with wheels” race | Castelfranco di Sotto
Centro storico Castelfranco di Sotto
Corso Remo Bertoncini
56022 Castelfranco di Sotto
Municipality of Castelfranco di Sotto
All over Italy, many small villages organise events to enliven the community and attract the curious: historical regattas, horse riding re-enactments, competitions that more or less faithfully reproduce medieval jousts. In Castelfranco di Sotto, on the second Sunday of June (this year, exceptionally, moved to 3 October) a unique palio has been held for over 30 years. Here we are far from the sea, here the Arno flows, but it is not in the river that the colourful palio boats float, but around the central Piazza Garibaldi. How? With wheels and chestnut sticks, called ‘bacchi’, moved by two rowers.
The aim of the palio is to revive, in a playful way, with a race that is very much felt by the contradaioli, the daily labours of the renaioli, who for centuries dredged the Arno to obtain the sand with which new buildings were constructed. The rowers have to complete three laps around the square on three-and-a-half metre-long, flat-bottomed boats, following a route marked out by bales of hay. There are four districts competing for the coveted ‘cencio’, painted each year by a different artist: San Michele in Caprugnana, San Martino in Catiana, San Bartolomeo in Paterno and San Pietro in Vigesimo. They represent the four villages that were originally built around the medieval castle.
Like any self-respecting palio, the contradaioli attach great importance to this challenge between “barchini“, each appropriately painted in the colours of its contrada. Villagers and tourists want to continue to amaze their incredulous friends by telling of seeing boats pushed by rowers ploughing the road as if it were the sea.
The event does not end on Sunday afternoon, but comes to life in the preceding days with a series of initiatives: free trials of the barquettes in Piazza Garibaldi, presentation of crews with musicians and flag-wavers in Piazza Bertoncini, Mass in the Collegiate Church with presentation of the new Cencio and blessing of the barquettes, technical checks of the barquettes in Piazza Bertoncini, free trials on the race circuit in Piazza Garibaldi. Sunday morning the Contrade Parade with over 200 participants, musicians and flag-wavers in costume.