Medieval Archery Tournament in Cagli

By Jennifer Caudle

Photos by Sophie Harbert

Woman sights target.

Woman sights target.

Throughout Italy, a common thread sews together the fabric of family, church, and community. This thread is tradition. Traditions encompass the values, celebrations, and customs of everyday life and the unique traditions of Cagli, Italy give meaning to life here. One such tradition in Cagli is the sport of archery.

Dating back over 500 years, archery is the skill of shooting arrows with the use of a bow. This ancient game springs to life on the cobblestone streets of old Cagli. Men, women, and children gather for the annual archery tournament. Participants dress in colorful, historical clothing crafted by skilled local artisans. The goose is Cagli’s symbol and is proudly displayed on each archer’s crest. Many historical games spar the four sides of the city against one another; however, this event unifies them. Cagli’s archers compete as a team against ten neighboring city-states for the title of national champion. Men and women of all ages and skill level compete.

Sixteen stations wrap around the city giving a wonderful tour of the village. Each station is an artful or animated display. A simple station could be a painting of an alligator with a fish in its mouth. The archer aims to hit the fish. A complex station could be a dummy hanging from a noose and the archer must shoot the rope to free the dummy. The archers are given 3 arrows to hit the target. Each area equates to 8, 5, or 3 points. Zero points if he or she misses the designated area. Once all 16 stations are complete, the archer’s tallied score determines the individual winner; while, the accumulated score of all team members determine the overall winning team.


Stefano takes aim.

Stefano Barzotti, former champion and president of Cagli’s Historical Games Association, explains that the bow used in the tournament replicates the bow from 500 years ago. Just as with ancient bows, today’s bow is constructed of fibrous wood from Africa and specially engineered by craftsmen throughout Italy. However, Barzotti clarifies that individual archers make their own arrows. They also sign each feathered-end. The signed arrows become important because arrows are not removed from the target after each individual shot. The signature is a marker of each archer’s position on the target.

According to Barzotti, archery takes commitment. An archer needs to practice every week until the correct form becomes habit. Barzotti has his own professional trainer and practices at least two hours a week. However, he would like to practice more because it takes a strong arm to pull the arrow back. His shoulder is often sore.

Barzotti began shooting arrows in a field seven years ago. As friends joined him, Cagli’s archery team was born. The team began with eight members and presently boasts over 20.  The youngest member is Barzotti’s own son who is 10.

Cagli’s Annual Archery Tournament is more than just a day of fun competition. It is tradition that unites the four sides of the city. The archery tournament unites all Caglisians, fusing together both men and women, young and old. Friendships sprout and grow as the archers practice together. Fathers, mothers and children enjoy competing, strengthening the family bonds. Skilled artisans display their talents among the historical costumes and artful bows and targets. Archery in Cagli is one more thread in the traditions that join friends, family, and community into a beautiful quilt that is the story of life in Cagli.

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