"Calendimaggio" of Assisi
5-6-7-8 May 2021


What is the story behind the symbols of the “Palio”, the official banner of the festival?
Nobilissima Parte de Sopran the Upper City, or "Parte de Sopra" as it is called, there is an old building in Via Perlici which boasts a coat of arms above the doorway depicting two stylized heraldic rampant cats opposite each other. There is no doubt the engraving is quite old as the building belonged to the Ottaviani family, who arrived in Assisi at the beginning of the 1600s and found the coat of arms already there. When it was time to pick a symbol, Mr. Giovanni Meccoli, Head of the "Parte de Sopra", liked it and thus the "GATTI MAMMONI" crest were born!

Magnifica Parte de SOttoIt was a little trickier for Mr. Bruno Zucchi, Head the "Parte de Sotto" (or Lower City) because, after discarding options like rampant lions or griffins as too common (they appear in lots of family and city crests including Assisi), he decided he wanted an historically-accurate coat of arms. Luckily he remembered that, in a building not far from his house in Via Fontebella, there was a coat of arms of the Fiumi-Roncalli family. After looking for it in the 1708 edition of Coronelli’s Atlas, he found the same symbols depicted on a French modern shield in the pages dedicated to Assisi’s noble families; the same emblem was also used by one of Foligno’s noble families, according to the Atlas, but it was depicted on an English shield.
Creating – or finding – coats of arms for the two parties was not at all difficult, therefore, but designing the “Palio” was another matter as we had to decorate a piece of cloth with the city’s coat of arms, the crests of the “Parte de Sopra” and of the “Parte de Sotto”, writings and cartouches. Upon recommendation (perhaps of Maceo but we are not sure) the task of designing the “Palio” was given to Avirno Amantini, a young but very cultured employee in the City Office.
The first attempt was a gonfalon but the shape prevented an harmonious placement of all the elements that needed to be included; then Avirno Amantini thought of an oriflamme, a banner with three tails bordered in gold used in the past by the Kings of France. Naturally it needed to be changed: the tails were reduced to two, which hosted the coats of arms of the two parties, while the upper part boasted the inscriptions “CITTA' DI ASSISI” and “CALENDIMAGGIO”, and the emblem of the City sans crown.
Yet more problems occurred with the choice of colours: those belonging to the “Parte de Sopra” drew light blue as a colour when they would have preferred red, the colour that their opponents drew, and threatened to pull out of the tournament. All’s well what ends well, however, and the banner was designed blue and red with a gold trim.
Laboratorio Suore 1954

Once workshops outside the city were excluded, the creation of the “Palio” was entrusted to the San Francesco Laboratory, a recreational and educational institution which, founded in 1902 and entrusted to the Sisters of Saint Anne, has since taught the girls of Assisi crafts such as knitting, pattern-cutting, and embroidery. It was thus those gentle hands that gave life to our banner, which exchanged hands for 52 tournaments and is now housed between the ancient walls of the Palazzo dei Priori.
I am grateful to Paola Bastianini Zucchi, President of the “Ente Calendimaggio” for this change... because nothing has actually changed! The KING is dead! Long live the KING!

Wherever the “Calendimaggio” is celebrated, the “Palio” is there!

Aldo Calzolari, già Segretario Generale del 1° Calendimaggio

Palio Calendimaggio 1961

For 52 years it brought me great joy and great sorrow: we have aged together, the “Palio” and I, and now that it's time to say goodbye I have a lump in my throat, and the irrational feeling that I am losing a piece of myself (silly, isn’t it?).

Although I haven’t seen it yet, I know that the new banner is a perfect copy of the old one just as I know that those commissioning the job have conveyed to the artist all the affection we, people of Assisi, have for that little red and blue flag that, once a year, awakens old passions – clearly just dormant – that bring us together, inhabitants of the “Parte de Sopra” and of the “Parte de Sotto”, young and old, rich and poor, regardless of politics, just for the joy of snatching it from the others and keeping it for as long as possible!

I can almost see it again, about forty years ago, flapping glorious and mocking on my mother’s terrace, and I can almost taste the anger, the fury we felt in discovering, a few hours later, that people from the “Parte de Sotto” had crept up and stolen it – an indignity they had to pay with blood! Then, obviously, we settled over a bottle of wine, but not before terrible reprisals!!!

I also remember the deep emotion I felt when, sitting at home (for me, the “Calendimaggio” celebrations end on Saturday night) I heard music and drums under my windows; when I looked out I found the old “Palio” in front of me, brought by the team as a sign of affection, perhaps undeserved, for my contribution to their victory: I swelled in pride!

But enough with looking back – it’s not goodbye!!! When we’ll be sitting in the tavern until dawn, reading and rereading the verdicts, drinking bad wine and eating bread (we always run out of ‘porchetta’) there will be the new “Palio” with us. And I hope that soon we will look at all that empty space around our coats of arms, imagining it once more full of dates, so creased and wrinkled it will look like the old one: welcome, new “Palio”!


Donata Elisei

Palio 1954

Palio Calendimaggio 1954

Palio 2006

Palio Calendimaggio 2006

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