Oristano is a small city in the central-western Sardinia, which for two days in a year turns into a center of a colourful horseback tournament. Sa Sartiglia, celebrated for centuries by the residents of Oristano, is a performance which reflects the traditions, beliefs and a profound cultural and spiritual heritage of the inhabitants.
Origins of Sartiglia
The origins of Sartiglia are not certain. Some scientists believe that the tournament was brought to the island by the crusaders. According to other theories, the contemporary form of Sartiglia was shaped by the Spanish invaders, who adapted the Sardinian horse race to the standars from the Iberian peninsula. The Spanish roots of the race might be noticed also in the name of the festivity, which derives from the Castilian word sortija (ring).
The celebrations of Sartiglia last three days and start on the last Sunday before Lent. The key events of the carnival take place on Sunday and Tuesday, and are traditionally managed by two main guilds of the city – the farmers, responsible for the Sunday celebration, and the carpenters, in charge of the events on Tuesday. The guilds select also the main character of the event – Su Componidori, the leader of the tournament with a strong symbolic meaning.
Su Componidori: a human divinity
Su Componidori is the most important figure of the Oristano carnival. The leader of the race is an androgynous creature, whose costume includes both female and male elements. Some scientists believe that the figure might represent Dionysos, the god of vegetation. In a solemnly celebrated dressing ritual, the person chosen by the guilds to represent Su Componidori undergoes a real transformation: for one day he or she becomes a divine creature, able to bless, bring prosperity and fortune in the upcoming months.
Su Componidori: dressing ritual
The dressing of Su Componidori is an opening ceremony of Sartiglia’s celebrations. The knight sits on a chair which stands on a table. The Massaieddas, young women in traditional Sardinian clothes, under the supervision of Massaia Manna, dress Su Componidori in a white shirt with colorful ribbons, waistcoat, mantilla and a black hat. The most important element of the costume is the mask, which on Sunday has the colour of earth and a white tint on Tuesday. After the dressing Su Componidori cannot touch the ground until the end of the celebrations, as it might harm his divinity. He has to get on his horse directly from the table.
After the ceremonial dressing, the carnival parade begins. Su Componidori, together with Su Segundu and Su Terzu, the two assistants whom he had chosen, follows the solemn procession while blessing the crowd with a bouquet of violets called pippia de maiu. In the procession participate the representatives of the guilds, inhabitants of Oristano in traditional costumes as well as other masked knights who will take part in the tournament. The parade stops at the cathedral square; the Componidori gives the bouquet to Oberaju Majore and receives in change a sword. He will be the first one to try his luck in the Star Joust, the aim of which is to insert the sword into a star-shaped ring while galloping on the horse. The next participants are Su Segundu and Su Terzu, followed by other knights selected by Su Componidori. Their attempts are accompanied by drums and applause of the crowd. After the sword tournament, Su Componidori and his assistants repeat the star heating with a wooden stick. The results of the Star joust have a symbolic meaning; the more hits the star gets, the better harvest will the farmers have in the upcoming year. The tournament ends with a ride called remada; Su Componidori lies down on the galloping horse’s back and blesses the audience with the bouquet.
Le Pariglie: the acrobatic show
After the main celebration, the festivity continues outside the city center with the acrobatic show called Le Pariglie. The riders, dressed in masks and traditional costumes perform acrobatic figures while riding on their horses. After the closing ride of Su Componidori and the last blessing, the procession goes to the dressing place where Massaieddas take off Componidori’s mask. It gives an official beginning to the nightlong celebrations.
To discover more about the carnival celebrations in other Sardinian cities take a look at our article.
Turchi D., Maschere, miti e feste della Sardegna, Roma, Newton Compton Editori, 2011