Celebrate Tuscany: The Festival Of The Thrush

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Some people think that summer is the perfect season for traveling to Tuscany, but people who believe that have clearly never been in Tuscan villa rentals during fall.  All of the natural beauty of the Tuscan landscape is augmented with vibrant shades of gold and orange, and the weather in the beginning of autumn is extremely pleasant.  Some people choose to travel to Tuscany in the summer because they want to experience the array of festivals in the region, but festivals don’t end when the summer months do.  There are plenty of fall festivals you can see, and there’s one you must visit if you have a taste for poultry and fine archery.

The small hill town of Montalcino has been observing the Festival of Thrush on the last Sunday of October for over half a century.  The four quarters of the town, Borghetto (white and red), Pianello (white and blue), Ruga (yellow and blue) and Travaglio (red and yellow), compete in an archery competition that people from around the country come to view.

The Festival of Thrush has its roots in a much older hunting tradition.  Each fall migratory birds make the Mediterranean region their home while they wait for the harsh winter pass in their usual habitats.  Countless species of birds make the migration, but the thrush is the most prominent bird that makes its return to Tuscany.  In the Middle Ages hunters would venture out into the woods during the fall migration and would come back with surplus of game.  During these days of plenty of feasts and banquets were held that would welcome both the common folk and nobility.  During the feasts men would compete in jousts and women would focus on cooking and serving.

Today the people of Montalcino still celebrate this time of year with a festival.  The festival starts off with a traditional song and dance to according music.  After the music, a procession of locals dressed in historical costumes begins complete with historically accurate trumpets and drums.  The town crier officially announces the beginning of the Festival of the Thrush from a window under the municipal tower that overlooks the town’s main square.  While the announcement is made birds are set free in the town square to honor the festival and pay tribute to the Lordship of the Fortress.

From there people move to the Piazza Garibaldi to watch the archers from the competing town sections get blessed in front of the town’s ancient church of Saint Egidio.  Soon the archery competition begins while guests can view the archers and eat a great feast.  Local wines flow liberally and guests dine on local dishes, many of which involve poultry.  At the end of the competition, the town section with the most points win. It isn’t a symbolic victory; the captain of the winning section receives a silver arrow with the name of their section inscribed on it.  The winning section also gets something we know as “bragging rights” in the UK and America.  The winning section has the right to sing hymns of victory about their team and songs of ridicule to the losing section.

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