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San Ginesio’s Battle – A Colourful Medieval Pageant in Italy

Deep down in the Le Marche region of Italy there is, I am reliably informed, a fabulous bi-annual battle re-enactment and medieval pageant which takes place in a lovely hilltop Italian town called San Ginesio.

Beware, though, when trying to track San Ginesio down on Google maps, ensure it is the San Ginesio in Le Marche.

In the town of San Ginesio the battle re-enactment event is known as ‘La Festa della Fornarina’, which, roughly translated means ‘The Little Baker’s Festival’.  What’s it all about, and what else is to be found in this curious and virtually unknown Italian town?

Fornarina Festival
Fornarina Festival

La Festa della Fornarina – History

Way back in November 1377, while the people of San Ginesio were sleeping peacefully, their enemies from the town of Fermo, sneaked up in the dead of night in order attack San Ginesio.  The wicked solders of Fermo managed to set fire to a few things in the town, but that was all, for their plans were scuppered by a little girl – La Fornarina – who gave the alarm and woke up the citizens of San Ginesio, who, in the ensuing battle, were able to repel the attack of their mortal enemies from Fermo.

A Bi-annual Re-enactment

Aside from a painting which commemorates the historic battle, and which can be found on display in the municipal art gallery, the townsfolk of San Ginesio also decided to hold a festival in honour of the girl who saved the town.

Pam Bates, who lived in the area and has taken part describes the festival as a spectacular event and well worth seeing.  Pan can boast a fair amount of local knowledge with regard to this charming area of Italy.

The battle re-enactment is held twice a year, once in late November on the actual anniversary of the battle, and once in July for visitors to the town – around the 29th or 30th of the month.

You will see from the photos which Pam Bates kindly supplied to Italy Chronicles that the event is certainly very atmospheric.  Just the thing for photography enthusiasts like me!  Sounds like one pretty good excuse to visit the Le Marche region of Italy, if you ask me.

La Festa dell Fornarina - San Genesio
La Festa dell Fornarina – San Genesio

la Fornarina Annual Prize for Feminine Achievement

In addition to the celebrations, the town of San Ginesio decided to further honour their female saviour by awarding an annual prize to female residents of the town in honour of female virtue and the fundamental role played by women in today’s society.

The award, which was set up six years ago, is presented by the Confraternita dei Sacconi di San Ginesio – the San Ginesio Mattress Makers (I think it’s ‘mattress makers’!) Brotherhood.

Local women earn the La Fornarina annual award for having devoted time to helping the young, poor and needy.

San Genesio - Drummers
San Genesio – Drummers

San Ginesio – Steeped in History

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Stop translating in your head and start speaking Italian for real with the only audio course that prompt you to speak.

This place is steeped in history, like so many of Italy’s hidden corners.  Once upon a time, this fortified hilltop town boasted 100 churches and 8 gateways, of which only four now remain.  San Ginesio almost attained the status of a principality too, as well as being known for its population Jewish merchants.

Of course as with the best of aspiring principalities there was a fortress too, on which is now the site of the town’s park, and running beneath San Ginesio is a network of tunnels once used by soldiers to traverse San Ginesio while it was under attack.

At several points in this town’s rich history, San Ginesio and its citizens managed to fall out with the Roman Catholic church, with one famous incident leading to some 300 dissidents being summarily exiled from the town.  These disowned townsfolk ended up in Siena, which is a fair old hike away.

In thanks to the hospitality of Siena’s population, the San Ginesio exiles served the Tuscan city faithfully.  So faithfully in fact that the people of Siena took pity on the exiled townsfolk and sent an ambassador to San Ginesio to negotiate for their return.

And so it was that some 10 years later, all was forgiven and the exiles were welcomed back with open arms. The returning citizens marched triumphantly and contentedly back to their beloved home town of San Ginesio from Siena in a procession complete with the ambassador from Siena and with a wooden cross at their head.

Not wanting to forget this fragment of the towns past, the return of the town’s prodigal sons and daughters is celebrated once every three years in the Ritorno degli Esuli – Return of the Exiles festival, which is held in mid-June.  Yet another reason to head for the particular neck of the Italian woods, or rather, hills!

The views from San Ginesio must be stunning, seeing as it it perched some 700 metres atop a hill.  Italian hilltop towns are always enchanting, as I know from my own experience.

In the photo below, the spectacular lady in red presiding over things is Pam Bates.

Return of the Exiles - San Ginesio
Return of the Exiles – San Ginesio

Discover the Secrets of San Ginesio

The Head of Tourism for San Ginesio is doing his level best to promote the assets of this magical area, and has even organised a ‘Discover the Secrets of San Ginesio’ tour for visitors to the town.

San Ginesio's Head of Tourism - Simone Tardella
San Ginesio’s Head of Tourism

Find out where San Ginesio is on Google maps – San Ginesio


With thanks to Pam Bates for providing information and all the images in this post.

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