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Sbandieratori – Italian Flag Throwers

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All over Italy festivals take place throughout the year in celebration of historical events, change of seasons, harvest times, and special holidays.
 
 In the fall you have wine festivals, truffle festivals, and even chestnut festivals – as the one that took place in the lakeside town in Bracciano on a sunny Sunday in early November. The main attraction: the Sbandieratori – Italian Flag Throwers!
 
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The Medieval and Renaissance eras dominate the theme, costumes, crafts, music, games, and performances. One of the highlights of any such festivals are the sbandieratori – or flag throwers – that skilfully and artfully perform challenging movements and flag rotations to the rhythmic sounds of drums and trumpets.

Decked in colorful costumes reminiscent of Italy’s distant eras, these well trained young men (and sometimes women and children) perform synchronized shows where large colorful fluttering flags emblazoned with colorful symbols and coats of arms are spectacularly rotated and tossed into the air with grace, dexterity, harmony and ease that indeed looks much easier than it actually is. Solo performances where multiple flags are used simultaneously is always a crowd pleaser.

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Sbandieratori performance

Sbandieratori performance

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Although the sbandieratori represent Italy’s fascinating Medieval and Renaissance eras in costumes and music, today it’s a highly entertaining cultural exercise…but it’s history is quite distant and practical.

History of Flags and Sbandieratori in Italy

Flags have been in use since the ancient Egyptian, Jewish and Greek times to identify nobility status, armies in battlefields, and even used at religious gatherings.

During war times, the flag-bearers were held in high esteem – for both their bravery and nobility status. Their flags were adorned with coats of arms that identified their town, dukedom, or principality.

They bravely led their troops into battle, their flags a used as a strategic means of communicating to military leaders situations on the battlefield and deliver orders to the soldiers through the specific and symbolic movements of their flags.  Without hesitation, without confusion, and without fear the flag-bearers were in the front lines executing highly critical and dangerous duties.

The flag itself was of utmost importance, and the brave flag-bearers had the obligation to protect their flag with their lives if necessary, and never let the flag fall into enemy hands – such would have catastrophic results.

It was common knowledge that the capture of an enemy’s flag would result in confusion, disruption in communication on the battlefield, and demoralization of the army that could easily lead to defeating the enemy.  Launching the flag high up in the air and far away from the battle ground where it could be taken to safety was an essential strategy of preventing the flag from falling into enemy hands and served as a sign for the troops to retreat or regroup.

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Sbandieratori throwing Flags

Sbandieratori throwing Flags

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Sbandieratori / Flag Throwing Games

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In times of peace, these previous military flag movements took on artistic representations famously exhibited during celebrations and festivals. Nowadays cultural associations and historic groups train and perform these ancient military games brandishing the flags of their town or “contrada” – neighborhood.

In one of the videos, a particularly skilled flag thrower, Nicola Borghesi, performs solo using 2, 3 and 4 flags. He is a member of “Il Gruppo Sbandieratori e Musici della nobile Nobile Contrada Trinità – di Soriano nel Cimino

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VIDEO 1:

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VIDEO 2

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