Venice without mass tourism.
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.
Opened at the beginning of the 11th century, the Rialto Market has always been at the commercial heart of Venice, and has been supplying fresh fish and vegetables to the town for all this time. Located nearby the Rialto Bridge, it is unsurprisingly crowded with tourists.
Despite the popularity, the Market remains a genuine place where Venetians gather to buy quality food and socialize.
The authenticity of the Market is palpable from the early hours of the morning when the fresh food is delivered by boat, by the noise of the traders, by the sound of their voices in the strong Venetian dialect, by local elders pushing their trolleys, by the seagulls that piles up around fish leftovers after the market closes and the blinds are lifted up.
In this respect, the market could be considered a microcosm where Venice still finds its voice, and refuses to become a mere tourist attraction.
“Rialto no se toca” (Don’t touch the Rialto Market) roars the Lion, symbol of Venice, as written on the Market banner, was placed there by fishmongers in 2011 when the local municipality proposed moving the wholesale fish market further from the city.
After a two years gap, we were back in Istanbul again for a week.
As always the town is warm and welcoming to visitors, and there is a lot to see beyond the traditional touristy locations.
These are few photos randomly taken during the trip, exploring the areas of Eminön, Balat and Fener.
Thanks to artist and photographer Timurtaş Onan for taking me around and showing little hidden gems.
His website www.timurtasonan.com/en/ and his art gallery in Istanbul at www.istanbul-fotografgalerisi.com/sanatci/
Bosko Petrovic, called Bole – Piroćanac, was born in 1940, and has been working since the age of twelve. As many pottery masters in Serbia, he comes from Pirot, eastern Serbia.
A specific aspect of the Pirot’s school of pottery making is that the potter is positioned next to the wheel (on the right hand side), whilst in other schools across the world potters turn the wheel that sits between their legs.
Bole tells us that he finished the school for the crafts at 16, and took him 4 additional years of apprenticeship to become a master or ‘Majstor’.
In 1956, the business he was working for had to close following the introduction of very large taxes. As many other skilful pottery masters from Pirot, he continued to get contracts across former Yugoslavia and used to work from spring to autumn. In 1966 he opened his first own business in the outskirts of Belgrade, and he was advised to sell at the Kalenic market.
I asked Bole how he could still make pottery at his age. Forty years ago Bole began a daily program of one hour exercise before going to work, following a doctor’s advice. Bole is, indeed, full of energy and strength, and he still works about four hours in the workshop every day.
Bole’s son, Dejan, has taken the workshop over in 1985, and invested in development and research of material and ways of firing the pots.
Bole and Dejan welcomed us at their workshop. After taking the photos we were offered Turkish coffee in beautiful and well-kept house garden. I asked Dejan, father of two daughters, if he has any apprentices keen to learn the art. He reckons that, as it takes about ten years to become a master, it is more convenient for young generation to continue studying at university.
The family business sells at the Kalenic market, in Belgrade.
Their website at http://www.grncar.rs/
Looking for old craft places in Belgrade, I have passed by this little watch repair shop located in Stari Grad.
Petar Pavic, an expert in the art of repairing old mechanical watches, is the 3rd generation running this business having decided to take on the tradition started by his grandfather in 1948. He currently works with his mother, not present at the moment of our visit, who offers a complete watch restoration.
When I was invited behind the counter, my attention was caught by the amount of watches, small parts, working tool and cards scattered on the table. Petar, indeed, feels very comfortable in his own working environment, as he remembers where to find things and the content of each little container and drawer.
During the short time I have spent in the shop, there was a constant stream of customers from all generations, and Petar’s approach to work was very responsive and rapid.
Not only Petar is equipped to repair almost any type of mechanical watch, but he also creates the tools to make parts he needs to fix vintage and rare pieces. Some of the oldest watches he repaired were a 220 years old and made in the Netherlands, a 150 years old satin wall clock, Russian “Zvezda“ from the 2nd Word War. Wall and standing clocks are another of Petar’s passion, and he has some examples of “Gustav Becker” clocks from 1865. These days he finds very interesting the “Junghans” German clocks, often seen in Belgrade. Junghans, once a dominant force, was producing 100 clocks per day in 1870 and in 1903 was the largest clock maker in the world. In 1930, “Gustav Becker” a successful German clock maker well known in Paris, Sydney, Berlin and Amsterdam, merged with Junghans.
Image above courtesy of Petar Pavic, a Zvezda watch inside
Watch restauration demands a far more intimate knowledge of the techniques used in traditional horology, and a greater experience in the aesthetic and mechanical design used.
I learnt that nowadays it is not easy to come by a school that teaches the skills needed to repair watches, as it is cheaper to replace the all faulty part rather than fix it. This makes Petar’s job more unique and hard to learn, and makes his dedication and passion to this craft another example where traditional skills, knowledge and passion are transmitted across generation.
Časovničar Pavić,12a Cetinjska, Stari Grad, Beolgrade, Serbia
Another great discovery in the heart of Belgrade, located in Gospodar Jevremova 63, Dorcol.
A family own boutique bookbinder (Knjigovezac), run by Dusan and his father Svetislav, offering traditional and contemporary bookbinding, preservation and conservation of printed material and box making. They use only mechanical machines, some over 100 years old which require minimal maintenance.
Svetislav took over this shop in 2003 from the previous owner, and we know that the business existed at this location from 1914, as an old receipt was recently brought by a customer.
Svetislav has a vast experience with conservation of manuscripts having worked for the University Library “Svetozar Markovic” and the National Library, and he was awarded in 2005 as best bookbinder by The Belgrade City Library.
Slovakian book from 1861
He made bespoke tools to create leather binding for Serbian Cyrillic books from the 12th to 19th century, and uses his graphical skills to create templates for the book engraving in order to preserve precious collections.
The reproduction of 12th century Serbian manuscript
Dusan and Svetislav had a number of important commissions such as the leather binding of “The Mountain Wreath” book and its box, a masterpiece of Montenegrin literature, written by poet Petar II Petrović-Njegoš.
This is only a small part of the craft and art skills, as they are constantly requested to produce beautiful leather cases by embassies and private customers. Part of their work are cases for swords for various Head of States.
I was fascinated by this traditional craft because of its importance in preserving the heritage, and I was delighted to see the traditional skills and knowledge being passes from father to son.
KNJIGOVEZNICA VUKASOVIC ,Gospodar Jevremova 63, Dorcol, Belgrade, Serbia
Thanks to the International Photography Awards (IPA) for awarding me with three honorable mentions in the categories of Architecture, Deeper Perspective/Editorial and Lifestyle/People.
Here is my work (click on each image to see the photos on the IPA site)
Deeper Perspective & Editorial: “Revisiting a working place”
Lifestyle & People: “UK Seaside in Summer”
Architecture, Bridges & Cityscapes: “Belgrade Bridge”
©2020 Francesco Marchetti, All Rights Reserved