The Gyrfalcon Crossbow competition is one of the greatest medieval historical re-enactments in Tuscany. It takes places in the main square of Massa Marittima, in front of its magnificent Cathedral, and is held twice a year: the fourth Sunday in May and the second Sunday of the month of August.
The contest sees the town’s crossbowmen compete in quarter groups. Massa Marittima has three districts: Cittanuova (wearing white, red and green colours), Cittavecchia (white, black and yellow) and Borgo (golden yellow, blue and red). Each quarter has 8 crossbowmen in their team for a total of 24 competitors. The medieval pageant consists of 150 performers dressed in precious velvet costumes representing all the typical period characters, who together with the renowned Company of Flag wavers and Musicians, Compagnia Sbandieratori e Musici Massetani, perform before the event.
The Balestro del Girifalco is held on two days. The Saturday is considered the day of the challenge, when authorities draw in which order the quarters compete. The colours drawn are then displayed on the town hall’s façade. The first to shoot are the luckiest, having a completely free surface. On the Sunday, the pageant winds its way along the medieval streets of Massa Marittima, through the various districts, collecting the various participants. Once they reach the square in front of the Cathedral flag wavers and drummers entertain onlookers until the herald announces the contest is open.
Each crossbowman has his own crossbow and one by one takes a shot at the target which is at a distance of 36 metres. The target is a 13 cm wooden frustum of cone protruding 42 cm from its base, a 50 cm circle. Not an easy aim. The winning quarter receives the Palio, a hand-painted silk drape, made each year by a different artist. The best crossbowman wins a symbolic golden arrow. Whoever wins, the celebrations following are worth the visit to this breathtaking part of Maremma.