The History of the Massarella Contrada

A memorable definition of the Palio given by the late President Cesare Oliva:

For a person from Fucecchio the Palio is everything, not just an event, but a ritual that can join us and also separate us, make us live a year of intense emotions, keep us alive, keep the city alive and exiciting. It’s like a beautiful woman for which we fell in deeply love and cannot get over this ‘crush’.

La BandieraIn 1981, when the Fratres di Fucecchio Blood Donors Group launched the idea of organising a horse race in Fucecchio and calling it a “Palio”, the inhabitants of Massarella did not hesitate in accepting the invitation. Massarella residence have always enjoyed a challenge and, in the 1960s -70s, the word “Palio” had been used for summer soccer tournaments that were organised in the Fucecchio football pitch for teams sponsored by town bars and other businesses: even then Massarella was challenging the neighbouring town of Fucecchio. Besides, in Massarella there were many horseback riding enthusiasts and, furthermore, the history of Massarella narrates the story of a traditional horse race once held at a site not far from Via Porto di Cavallaia (the name “Cavallaia” even derives from the Italian word for “horse”). So some residents of Massarella, armed with enthusiasms and passion, met to organise their participation in the Palio, with the presence of: PIERO BELLANDI, aka “Caparra” , a great lover of horses, and his son CARLO, OTELLO BONCRISTIANI, a good friend of “Caparra”, ALFREDO GIANNONI and ORLANDO BECONCINI, two young and enthusiastic friends of Carlo Bellandi, and RICCARDO BIANCHI, a Ponsacco native married to the daughter of Renato Giannoni (both from Massarella), father of Alfredo and manager of the then Bar Sport in town, a traditional meeting place, together with the Bar Donnini (then better-known as “Da Mea”). This group of companions dealt with the initial organisational difficulties, beginning with the assigning of the Emblem and the Colours of the Contrada by the Palio organisers.

This detail brings up a curious anecdote:

It was decided that “Caparra” would go to Fucecchio to be assigned the symbols and colours for Massarella, and he was told to request the colours Yellow and Green (the colours of the MASSARELLA SPORTS CENTRE).

Unfortunately, Piero Bellandi, also known as “Caparra”, having arrived at the Fratres in the afternoon, had forgotten the suggestion and was assigned the colours of PINK and LIGHT BLUE, together with the coat-of-arms of two dolphins: upon his return to Massarella, everyone was shocked…

La contradaThe first “contrada committee” worked very hard to participate in the Palio. While the horses were nearly all brought in by the organisation, the jockey was to be selected by the Massarella organisers, but unfortunately no one could remember his name. The problem of Massarella was that it was 8 km from Fucecchio, and there was neither a stable nor a vehicle for transporting the horse, so one was chosen from the area near Fucecchio. On the day of the Palio, the horse was walked a few kilometres to the Buca – an old quarry where the race was held – with consequences that can easily be imagined. So, although it was not an official or well-organised Contrada, Massarella had participated in its first Palio di Fucecchio and Piero Bellandi can be considered the first President of the Contrada Massarella.

Beginning the following year, 1982, other Massarella residents joined those who were busy looking for the horse and jockey. Among them, the most active members were IVO CUCINI, aka “Montaione” (to be considered the first Captain, even if not officially, because he was the leading expert on horses and jockeys and often established the criteria for the decision), ETRUSCO MATTEONI, aka “Bugheri”, FRANCO CARLI, PAOLO CARDINI, BRUNO BARONTI aka “Brunino”, GIULIO PERNA and CESARE OLIVA, who became the first official President of the Contrada and was to remain so for many years to come.

The organisation of the Palio required an overwhelming commitment of time from these enthusiasts as well as a considerable financial commitment for engaging the horse and jockey. In the meantime, the organisation of the historic parade had also gained importance.

To meet the financial burden, Contrada Massarella took up a collection of donations from among town residents and began organising dinners where guests were often the same people who made special donations. It was therefore difficult to compete with the larger Contrade in Fucecchio, which often benefited from greater financial backing.

The results were always somewhat disappointing, in spite of the absolute dedication of the contrada organisers and discouragement and mistrust were always around the corner, but the inhabitants of Massarella never gave up hope, even if sometimes the negative results did not depend on the poor quality of the horse, but rather on the “furbate” – or dishonest tactics – used by the jockeys.

After winning fourth place in 1984 with Maurizio Farnetani, aka “BUCEFALO” in the saddle of SER BRUNETTO, a series of eliminations followed in the semi-finals, in spite of having engaged the jockey PIER CAMILLO PINELLI – also known as “SPILLO” – or “pin” – with a horse dubbed EDNA AIR, which in fact should have flown to the finish …… in fact it flew, but to the ground because it tripped over the starting rope!

The next two Palios (1989 and 1990) went better, with TONINO COSSU, aka “CITTINO” in the first one on the horse named PHANTASM coming in second and, in 1990, coming in third, but haunted by many painful and disturbing questions….

In the meantime, the Contrada had joined the Massarella Spontaneous Group of Initiative, actually increasing the people’s participation in the Palio and, even if for the first few times the bottom lines were somewhat divided, they gained greater economic strength from the numerous initiatives that the group had organised since 1971. This union even allowed the Contrada to adopt a Statute that the Spontaneous Group of Initiative had registered with the Florence courthouse in 1974, so it may be said that the first Contrada to boast a legally recognised set of regulations was actually Massarella.

Massimo CogheFrom 1990, seven more disappointing years passed, in spite of having hired MASSIMO COGHE, aka “MASSIMINO”, a jockey who won the Palio di Siena, the man who had raced more Palios than anyone else for Massarella (a total of eight). Following the sad and premature death of President CESARE OLIVA, to whom the Contrada will always be grateful, almost seven years, from 1991 to 1997, culminating with the engagement of a fantastic horse, GIANPIERO RUOCO, ridden by “MASSIMINO”. Everything seemed to be going in their favour, but during the final race when it looked like they would have the Palio in their hands at last, GIANPIERO RUOCO injured himself running and stopped in his tracks. Sadness, disappointment, anger…a curse that had lasted for 17 years but that was finally broken the following year, in 1998, the year of the Parish of Massarella Millennium celebration.

The Contrada Massarella was more determined than ever under the guidance of its President PAOLO CARDINI and Captains GUIDI ALESSANDRO and DAVIDE GIUGGIOLINI. For the sixth consecutive time, they chose to engage “MASSIMINO” as a jockey to ride another stupendous purebred: GOLDEN LUCKY.

Having passed the elimination round, even if not without some apprehension, the start of the final race was not particularly brilliant and “Massimino” remained a few lengths behind the others. Then in a fantastic burst of speed, Golden Lucky passed them all and gained a tremendous lead. The Triumph and the Victory of the first PALIO in the history of the Contrada Massarella were finally a reality! The people of the Contrada Massarella flooded the track, crazed with joy!

Mureddu-ShakuntalaFrom that moment on, the Contrada Massarella began playing a more important role in the Palio, and after winning second place in 1999, they repeated their success in 2000 with the great team of SHAKUNTALA ridden by GIANLUIGI MUREDDU, aka “POLLICINO”, who had enjoyed little esteem by those both in and out of the Contrada. Instead, “POLLICINO” surprised everyone, even beating even the great “MASSIMINO”, who in the meantime had been riding for the Contrada FERRUZZA, at the finish line. POLLICINO’s gestures of sticking out his tongue and raising his fist at the Contrada Massarella spectators while flying past the finish line to win the Palio have gone down in history.

Three Palios followed (of which an extraordinary one in 2000 for the occasion of the Jubilee) in which the Contrada Massarella always raced in the final, placing twice, while the 2001 Palio was suspended due to the invasion of CAPPIANO onto the track and was never awarded.

At this point, MASSARELLA occupied yet another page of history : the first shut-out of the Palio di Fucecchio, winning twice in a row in 2003 and in 2004, always with the jockey CLAUDIO BANDINI, aka “BATTICUORE”. The first Palio was won with a horse, OMBRE ROSSE, who was considered lacking in potential and in poor health. The evening of the “tratta”, the Contrada Massarella were inconsolable and further discouraged by the fact that their “rival” had drawn the favoured horse and, furthermore, had engaged the renowned “Massimino”. But the Palio sometimes works a magic all its own… OMBRE ROSSE and “BATTICUORE” succeeded in an incredible and marvellous undertaking, winning the Palio with a race that exemplified courage, cunning, and power, also thanks to the wonderful work done by veterinarian MARCELLO BERNARDI, aka “MARCELLONE”, thanks to whom the horse was able to recover from the disturbances he was suffering from.

The high point came, however, the following year – in 2004 – when Massarella drew a very strong horse that went on to run and win in the Palio di Siena : ELISIR DI LOGUDOR.

Il PresidentePresident Paolo Cardini, with Captain Davide Giuggiolini and Pastor Alildo Boschi set their stakes once again on the jockey “BATTICUORE”, in spite of the fact that they spent all night discussing whether they should call in the best jockeys of Siena to ride such a strong horse.

The Contrada Massarella had won the previous year and no one had ever succeeded in winning two consecutive Palios.

Until the final heat, it was obvious that everyone was betting against Massarella, but “BATTICUORE” made it to the final, which he ran under incredible tension between the ropes. At the start, “BATTICUORE” fell behind, but ELISIR seemed to have grown wings, and galloped powerfully along the outside, gaining in position after position, coming up beside BOTTEGHE at the Bernarda curve and boldly taking the lead: what happened after we will leave to your imagination, although you would never be able to truly imagine it all!!! It was the story of CAPPOTTO and the fourth Palio won in eight years that is one of the best stories ever told !!!

“BATTICUORE” had been the jockey for Massarella for another three years, collecting a third and fourth place, but also failing in 2005, in spite of it being a wonderful opportunity with LE MUSICIEN.

The last three years have been characterised by just as many finals, above all the final of 2008, lost by “a nose” with PORTA BERNARDA , the horse was GANOSU, ridden by GIANLUCA FAIS, aka “VITTORIO”, a jockey that the Contrada had placed all their stakes on.

In the final, “VITTORIO” faltered at the start, but then galloped powerfully along the outside, flanking the other horses along the final PORTA BERNARDA straightaway, and lost at the finish line by a mere “nose” : in fact, a metre sooner and MASSARELLA would have won.