Venice without mass tourism.
It has been the hottest Carnival ever, with temperatures above 30 degree.
More than just a street party, the Carnival was first held in 1959 in response to a series of racist attacks and rioting that spread in west London. The Carnival was put together to celebrate of the local community, people from the Caribbean coming to London in search of opportunities.
As always, there is a lot of fun, great energy and positive vibes, music and street food, beautiful costumes and dance from the London samba schools.
Once again, a great job from the Notting Hill Carnival organisers. https://www.facebook.com/NHCarnivalLDN/
Commonly known for the Piazza dei Miracoli and The Leaning Tower, Pisa remains a town rich in culture, historical sites, and traditions. The month of June offers a number of events, such as the “Luminara”, the “Regatta” and the “Battle on the Bridge”, when thousands of people come to overcrowd the southern and norther banks of the river Arno, called “Lungarni”.
The Battle, which sees several neighbourhoods, organised in two main coalitions, the southern side of the river, or “Mezzogiorno”, and norther part, or “Tramontana”, and evokes medieval battlefields among factions in Pisa. The first edition of the game took place in 1568.
The overall game is divided into several stages. The historical parade, the formal opening of the battle, the challenges made by the ambassadors and the battle itself. The most picturesque part of the events are the historical parades, which start simultaneously on both sides of the river.
The sunset light is gentle on the beautiful medieval costumes. The Pisans have arrived in great numbers, sitting and standing on the parapets along the Arno. Everything is well organised for a family-oriented event. The “Gioco del Ponte” begins under the sound of the troops marching and drumming along the Lungarni.
I have chosen to follow the “Tramontana” coalitions as the troops pass by the popular street of “Borgo Stretto”, one of the most characteristic and picturesque sites at the heart of Pisa, with coffees, restaurants and the authentic fruit market. The Borgo Stretto is where the social life happens, where the university night life takes place, where curious tourists are willing to discover the town beyond the Duomo, where to enjoy the stunning sunset on the Lungarno.
The overall historical parade consists of twelve teams, each one representing a different faction of Pisa. Each has its own motto, costume, drummers, warriors, and captain. They walk by the Arno to finally gather at the opposite side of the main bridge or “Ponte di Mezzo”, where the battle will begin. From there, a “challenge” is made deciding which team is going to fight next. In return, the ambassador from the opposite collation will announce the opposing team.
The actual battle happens in the middle of the bridge, where rival teams compete to “conquer” the bridge by pushing against each other a special trolley which moves on the track. The winning team is the one who makes the other team retreat, by triggering a flag at the end.
As in the medieval battlefields the troops needed to be highly trained, so are the man pushing the trolley. Physical strength alone is not enough to succeed. Mental preparation and a strategy under the command of a team captain are needed to win a battle. In the hierarchical organisation of the game, the captain is the charismatic leader the team relies on. Some have been leading a team for many years collecting memorable victories.
Six battles might not seem a lot, however a single encounter might last for many minutes of exhausting and strategic push-retreat-push. This was the case this year with the last fight, lasting for about twenty minutes, which sees the strongest teams from both sides. The awaiting during the push is nerve wrecking for the supporters on both sides, as the trolley does not seem to move to any directions. Supporters’ cheering blends with the noise of the drums.
A last final push and the overall victory this year goes to Tramontana. As the game is over, supporters pour out to the streets to celebrate with the winning coalition.
The Gioco del Ponte is a source of great pride in Pisa, and it is supported by the “Amici del Gioco del Ponte” association, committed to support the game with awards linked to the best roles and costumes.
It is much more that a game. It is love, respect and celebration for the Republic that Pisa once was. The town was a power in the Mediterranean at the time of the Maritime Republics. Not by chance, the overall motto of the Gioco is “Vinca Tramontana o vinca Mezzogiorno, sempre Pisa vincera’“ (translates like – whoever wins between Tramontana and Mezzogiorno, Pisa will always win). The greatness of Pisa always win.
Amici del Gioco del Ponte – link in English:
Thanks to the Comune di Pisa for the support I have received to produce this work.
Our visit to Lalibela happened to coincide with the celebration of Saint George at the Bete Giyorgis, one of the eleven rock-hewn monolithic churches, and pilgrimage site for the member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Bete Giyorgis is to me far the most spectacular of the Lalibela churches because carved out of the ground and shaped from the inside out as unbroken piece of stone. It is also one of the few churches not being spoiled by the UNESCO uninteresting installation being built like umbrellas over the roof of other churches to protect them from the environmental elements. Bete Giyorgis is isolated from the other groups and beautifully sits surrounded by the rural and pastoral landscape.
The construction of this church is ascribed to King Lalibela (late 12th or early 13th AD), who wanted to recreate the reign of Jerusalem, and it is today one of the holiest places in Ethiopia.
Witnessing the Saint George religious festival almost feels like traveling to a biblical atmosphere. At the early hours of the morning, believers are already standing on the rocks surrounding the church, immersed in their prayers and reading the Holy Bible. Many have already made it throughout the narrow passage leading down to the Church courtyard. As the sun rises, rays of light make their way to enlighten natural caves where pilgrims are playing drums and chanting.
The monolithic block gradually comes alive as people keep gathering together to celebrate the Holy Mass. The chants contrast with the silent of the rock. The beautiful white traditional dresses, carrying diverse cross motives, juxtapose with the colour of the volcanic tuff the rocks are made off.
Later in the morning, as we emerge from the courtyard, the entire site is crowded with believers. A few hours later people will gradually leave to go to schools or workplaces.
The Saint George festival is only a small flavour of the many religious events happening in Lalibela. Our guide, Haile, very knowledgeable about Lalibela and surrounding areas, made it possible for us to ‘seamlessly’ blend into the celebration.
Few days later, back to London, we feel much closer to the Ethiopian community gathering for the Sunday morning mess at the nearby church, where we are being welcomed very warmly.
The experience in Lalibela has created a deep and emotional connection with Ethiopia.
Thanks to our tour guide in Lalibela, Hailemariam Wubet (link to facebook page)
Last week in Ethiopia we had the opportunity to visit the Addis Merkato, considered to be the largest open market in Africa.
Initially overwhelm by the hectic scene, chaos, noise, myriads of business trading all sort of goods, we have adventured into the side streets which lead to various sections of the market.
Despite the large size, it is always possible to exit the market from different sides and join one of the main roads surrounding the area. From there it is easy to walk back to the starting point or look for transport.
Our guide, Joseph, a tourism student, is very knowledgeable about Addis and the Merkato, and helps us communicating with local. Gradually, the market starts to make sense.
We walked throughout stalls selling exotic spices and strong coffee beans. Primarily female and kids are working there and call us “faranji” as we pass by. To them, every foreigner is from China.
We learn about the Enset, “false banana” paste, a multipurpose crop feeding more people per square miles than any other cereal.
Perhaps the most interesting section is the “recycling” area where things get fixed and eventually traded back in the market. The sound from hundreds of workers chiselling hard material, joining metals part, fixing pots, is like a restless jazz orchestra. In the Merkato, everything gets recycled.
People welcome us with curiosity. Some smile and do not mind our presence; others let us understand, in a polite way, that photographs are unwanted. Kids are excited at meeting foreigners and like the engagement. Some wants to take photos with us.
At the end of our visit, just before sunset, leaving the market means wanting to go back soon to understand more.
©2020 Francesco Marchetti, All Rights Reserved