Life in a Contrada : the "behind the scenes" of the contradas of the Bravìo delle Botti



Montepulciano’s Bravìo delle Botti, as anyone knows, is a very engaging event, with its connotations, part historical, part sacred, and part profane. There are aspects of this celebration that everyone knows, which, most likely, do not even require an introduction: the Proclamation of the Gonfaloniere, the Candles’ Procession, the historical parade, and the proper race between the 8 contradas (i.e., the town districts) on the Bravìo‘s day (last Sunday of August).

However, Bravìo is never what you can see from the outside, and cannot be reduced to a simple attraction. In fact, there is a hidden world, a reality parallel to all the events that attract tourists and visitors, which could be defined as the true essence of the festival: the life of the contrada. Now, I do not know how it works in the other districts, but in mine, the following is the way things are each year.

It starts with Calici di Stelle on August 10, otherwise known as the “provaccia“: it is the test of dishes, of the group, of the relationships, with a view to the long and hard week of events at the end of August. The mood, on August 10, is generally wound up and hopeful, so, the atmosphere is basically that of “let’s love each other”.

Then, comes the moment for the Gonfaloniere, i.e., the moment when things change. Anxiety begins to be significant, people from the contradas get a bit more under pressure, since everything has to be perfect and work in order to satisfy the typical cuisine’s lovers during dinners. However, the situation gets interesting around the middle of the week: yes, because after 4/5 nights with only four hours of sleep, combined with fatigue and stress, the mood is a little less relaxed, and the effect of the holidays is largely vanished. It is at this point in the week that the various catchphrases are unleashed, and Despacito has got definitely nothing on it: “Oh, stop it, I’ve had enough, tomorrow wanna go to the candles” – “Next I resign, it’s been ten years since I last saw the party, I can’t take it anymore” – “Here everyone goes his own way. ”

And the debate is unlimited and unbridled, as only true Tuscans can do. Then, there are little digs, discussions, misunderstandings, and, at worst, quarrels. Now, let’s be clear: it’s all part of the game, that’s the great thing about it as well. As in any family, you get on well with someone, and not so well with someone else, but basically, what makes the Bravìo truly unique is just that it works a bit like with relatives: endless bickering, but for Christmas, all at the same table.

And then, let’s face it all, most of the bitterness risen in the evening turn off after 11 pm. When the cash register closes, the contradas show their true soul. I do not know the way things are elsewhere, but in my case, this is what happens: after the hard work of the evening, people from the contradas take their fair reward with a nice dinner, all enjoying the same banquet.

L'immagine può contenere: 13 persone, persone che sorridono, spazio all'aperto


And then, straight to some nice toasts, red wine, choirs, hymns sung hand on heart, applause to the “pushers”, applause to the kitchen, thanks to the magistrate, laughter, jokes (often R-rated). Then, pici in all versions, and wine, with more songs and laughter. In the last few years, in the districts I have seen things that some people could not believe, and I have witnessed real depersonalisations: people who are basically serious and compunctions, motionless for the most part of the year, who turn into experienced shouters screaming “My contrada will win!”, a toothy smile plastered on their face, and a great purple red color on their cheeks.

I could add that it is in this scene that we can sum up the genuine mood of the event, since 1974. However, this is nothing but the prelude to the day of the competition: the long-awaited last Sunday of August. 18 breathless hours filled with suspense, anxiety, and expectations that, in some cases, never come true. But this is another story.