Barrels of fun in Montepulciano!


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The Bravio festival in Montepulciano - Tuscany

The Bravio festival in Montepulciano – photo by Ellepizero

You’ve heard of the Palio of Siena; the world famous horserace set around the city’s central square. But what about the ‘Bravio’ of Montepulciano; a small town of ancient Etruscan origin, located south of Siena and home to stunning surrounding countryside. Both of these competitions in Siena and Montepulciano are between city districts, or ‘contrade’, and both draw thousands of visitors and hold spectacular celebrations, but that’s where the similarities end. Because in Montepulciano, the race doesn’t involve horses, it involves wine barrels

And no, before you start thinking that the good people of Montepulciano ride big wine barrels around the town, this is not exactly how it works! The barrels are in fact pushed around the town by two ‘pushers’ from each of the 8 contrade. These barrels weigh a hefty 80 kilos each, meaning that this event is a contest of speed and strength. The barrels are pushed through the picturesque streets of the historic centre or ‘centro storico’ until they reach the end destination of the Piazza Grande, where the Duomo is located. And if rolling a heavy barrel for about a kilometre wasn’t difficult enough, the course is actually uphill! The winners of the competition receive the ‘Bravio’, which is a painted cloth bearing the image of the town’s patron saint, San Giovanni Decollato, ‘decollato’ meaning beheaded. Nice.

So how did this curious and original festival in Tuscany come about? Well, funnily enough, this race was originally done on horseback, similarly to the Palio in Siena. More recently however, since 1974, the competition was changed to involve barrels instead. Montepulciano is famous for its vineyards that produce delicious wine, and therefore the barrel is a fitting symbol for this medieval town.

The actual barrel rolling contest takes place on the last Sunday of August, but during the week surrounding the event there’s lots to see and do, as the different contrade hold evening celebrations with dinner, music and other entertainment. On the day of the contest, ceremonies take place in the morning and at 3pm a fantastic historical procession is held. You can see over 300 people all in wonderful medieval costumes, and the town itself is also covered in colourful flags bearing the colours of each contrada. At 7pm, bells signal the start of the barrel rolling and the atmosphere becomes very competitive indeed!

So if you’re looking for fun things to do in Tuscany, then make sure you head to Montepulciano at the end of August! As well as that, you can also take part in out bestselling Chianti Classico tour, which takes you around some of the most beautiful cities in Tuscany (including Montepulciano), as well as the stunning Chianti countryside and the Val d’Orcia.

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