Il Bravìo

On the last Sunday of August, the traditional “Bravio delle Botti” is held in Montepulciano, a reenactment of a challenge between the eight city districts, which in years long past consisted of a horserace but has been replaced in modern times with a wine barrel race. The barrels, each weighing about 80 kg, are rolled by two athletes from each district, called “pushers”, along the winding uphill 1800 meters of road that goes through the picturesque streets of the old town of Montepulciano, until the arrival in the square of the Cathedral in Piazza Grande.

The race is traditionally preceded by a fascinating historical procession, which contains more than three hundred local citizens, who dressed in period attire, move along the same route, throwing flags and conjuring images of past times.

The word “Bravìo” comes from the vulgar “Bravium” and indicates the prize awarded to the winning district, consisting of a painted cloth bearing the iconographic image of the patron saint of Montepulciano, St. John the Beheaded, in whose honor the event is held every year.

The history of the districts of Montepulciano can be traced back to the late fourteenth century, or more precisely in 1373 A.D., the year in which the City Charter devotes the entire chapter 30 to the provisions about the Palio, which appears set up precisely with this law, in honor of the patron saint of Montepulciano (August 29th), “to perpetual and happy memory of the citizens” The Bravìo was originally disputed with horses until the seventeenth century, then suppressed for reasons of public order.

On the last Sunday of August, the traditional “Bravio delle Botti” is held in Montepulciano, a reenactment of a challenge between the eight city districts, which in years long past consisted of a horserace but has been replaced in modern times with a wine barrel race. The barrels, each weighing about 80 kg, are rolled by two athletes from each district, called “pushers”, along the winding uphill 1800 meters of road that goes through the picturesque streets of the old town of Montepulciano, until the arrival in the square of the Cathedral in Piazza Grande.

The race is traditionally preceded by a fascinating historical procession, which contains more than three hundred local citizens, who dressed in period attire, move along the same route, throwing flags and conjuring images of past times.

The word “Bravìo” comes from the vulgar “Bravium” and indicates the prize awarded to the winning district, consisting of a painted cloth bearing the iconographic image of the patron saint of Montepulciano, St. John the Beheaded, in whose honor the event is held every year.

The history of the districts of Montepulciano can be traced back to the late fourteenth century, or more precisely in 1373 A.D., the year in which the City Charter devotes the entire chapter 30 to the provisions about the Palio, which appears set up precisely with this law, in honor of the patron saint of Montepulciano (August 29th), “to perpetual and happy memory of the citizens” The Bravìo was originally disputed with horses until the seventeenth century, then suppressed for reasons of public order.

I terzieri

The districts, each of which had a monitoring and administrative role, are described in the municipal charter of 1337 A.D.,in the fourth book of the Mayor, and have maintained their same names to current times: Cagnano, Collazzi, Coste, Gracciano, Poggiolo, San Donato, Talosa, Voltaia. Then and now, the districts are grouped into thirds or terzieri:

S. Maria: white; mystic rose emblem; made up of the districts of Cagnano, Collazzi and San Donato.

St. Francis: Green; thistle crest; made up of the districts of Coste, Talosa, Voltaia.

St. Augustine: red; miter and pastoral crest; made up of the districts of Gracciano, Poggiolo.

The "Societas"

Each district had its “Societas”, with a boss called a “Rector”, who administered, within certain limits, their business. The Rectors represented the district in particular solemnity, as in that of St. John on 29th August, during which day, they had to go to the church of Santa Maria (almost in the same place where the Cathedral of Montepulciano today stands) with at least 10 men to offer a candle to the saint of 15 pounds (10 pounds those of the Districts of Collazzi and Coste). On the occasion of the feast of St. Agnes on May 1st, they had to go to the church of the monastery of Santa Maria Novella out of the Gracciano Door (today the church of St. Agnes) to offer to the Saint an adequately sized candle. On these two important feast days, the participation of the population and the “deployment” of the municipal leadership, the Gonfaloniere, the numerous “notaries”, the Mayor, the powers, the Judge, the Councillors, stranger Officers and the garrisons of the cities was of particular note for the community of Montepulciano.

The history of the districts of Montepulciano allows one to get an idea not only of the life of the city of the time, but also of its urban structure and the developments that occurred at the turn of the 1200’s and 1300’s. The oldest districts are definitely those of “Sasso”, or the highest part of the city, site of the first settlement area, namely San Donato, Talosa and perhaps Poggiolo. The latter parts of the city: Collazzi, Le Coste, Cagnano, Voltaia and Gracciano were considered “villages” until 1281 (i.e. outside agglomerations of the city) and they became districts by 1300. From the ancient history of the districts of Montepulciano, as documented in the municipal Statutes of the time, we san see the same nomenclature, colors, emblems, urban territoriality, and especially the same ceremonial model.

The recent history of the “Bravìo” began in 1974 when a parish priest, Don Marcello del Balio, had the idea to transform the ancient horse race into a barrel race. The idea, whilst absolutely brilliant, could not have been more apt, given the international reputation and the quality of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The barrels are an important element in the economy of Montepulciano, as they are fundamental to the aging of the wine.

The “Bravìo” is held on the morning of the last Sunday of August. From 10:00am in Piazza Grande a series of important and impressive ceremonies are hosted, including the drawimg of the starting order of the barrels, the branding of the barrels, the waving of the flag ensigns, the delivery of the cloth by the municipality to the Magistrate of the Contrade, the offer of votive candles to St. John in the Cathedral. In the afternoon at 15:00 the parade begins with its fascinating historical procession, made up of over three hundred local participants dressed in period costume.

Finally, at 19.00, after the signal given by the ringing of the bells of the City Hall, the barrels start rolling, starting from the Marzocco column. After a few minutes the “Bravìo” race will have been concluded; only one district will celebrate the victory and will take the “cloth”; The other districts will forego feelings of bitterness and think about future victories, without rancor and showing respect for the winning Contrada; a story that has been repeated for over six hundred years.

The week preceding the Palio is full of important events, such as the Proclamation of the Gonfaloniere and the Procession of the Candles. Every evening the districts welcome all with parties, dinners, games, music and wine. The event attracts thousands of tourists for the week long series of events, thus strengthening the spirit of the whole community of Montepulciano.

Heritage of Italy

In 2011 the Bravio delle Botti of Montepulciano was nominated by the Italian Ministry of Tourism as being an event of cultural importance worthy of attention. The Tourism Minister, in a letter addressed directly to the Magistrato delle Contrade, has included the Bravìo among the events that constitute the promotion of the history and traditions, emphasizing the artistic, cultural and historical heritage and representing an important driving force for the Italian tourism economy.

In 2011 the Bravio delle Botti of Montepulciano was nominated by the Italian Ministry of Tourism as being an event of cultural importance worthy of attention. The Tourism Minister, in a letter addressed directly to the Magistrato delle Contrade, has included the Bravìo among the events that constitute the promotion of the history and traditions, emphasizing the artistic, cultural and historical heritage and representing an important driving force for the Italian tourism economy.

The Bravìo is an event that keeps the folklore of its territory alive, maintaining traditional customs, whilst adapting to the times “and turning them into tourist attractors, able to record a wider and growing participation” .

The original idea of Don Marcello, with all the advances and improvements made over the recent years, is therefore focusing more attention and interest on the Bravìo of the Botti and Montepulciano, while carrying with it, the social participation of an entire town.