The Boat Palio

History of the Palio of the Boats and The Procession of The Virgin in the Boat

The Palio dei Barchini – or Palio of the Small Boats – and the Processione della Madonna in Barca – or Procession of the Virgin in the Boat – were instituted in 1997 and 1998 as part of the celebration of the Millennium of the Parish of Massarella and were solemn rituals with the participation of the Bishop of Pescia, Monsignor De Vivo, in the procession.

The Processione restored a tradition dating back to the late 1800s, when a statue of the venerated Virgin was brought from the Buggianese Bridge to Massarella along the canals of the Padule with typical boats used in this area (Barconi – or large boats – and Barchini – smaller types of flat-bottomed row boats).

Once the port of Cavallaia was reached, the statue of the Virgin was carried in a Procession to the Parish Church of Massarella and was venerated there for a few days before being transferred by boat to the Bridge in Cappiano along the Canale Maestro, or main canal.

La ProcessioneThis became a thanksgiving ritual, propitiatory for the harvest, and to invoke the protection of the Virgin Mary.

The Contrada, together with the Parish of St. Mary in Massarella, has restored this tradition with a night-time Procession that takes place the last Saturday in the month of June, leaving from the port of Cavallaia and navigating along the Canale Maestro, which has been beautifully illuminated by torches placed along the banks. The bridge on the canal is decked out with lights that form a large M on the arches of the bridge, under which the little boats pass one by one. An antique statue of the Virgin Mary is hauled onto the boat of the winner of the last Palio dei Barchini.

The boat is decorated with flowers and illuminated, ready for the holder of the Palio to conduct the Virgin in the Procession. There are many other little boats with simple candles that surround the Madonna in Barca. Traditionally, local boaters can only bring one passenger along with them during this ritual. The parish priest leads the crowd of faithful along the torch-lit banks, following the Procession of Boats. The faithful hold burning candles and the historical standards of the various districts and hamlets of Massarella, each of which bears a painting in honour of the Virgin, Patron Saint of Massarella. The Procession ends in the middle of the Padule in a place called the Sfioritore, where the statue is installed on a throne bedecked in flowers and blessed amidst the prayers and hymns raised in honour of the Virgin.

Il Palio dei Barchini

The next day, Sunday, at 5pm, the Palio dei Barchini takes place. This entails a very tiring competition that requires, in addition to physical strength, also excellent balance and skill in manoeuvring the typical boats used on the marshes by hunters and fisherman who venture into the shallows of the Padule. The barchino is a heavy wooden vessel that is tarred and has no keel. The boater must stand in a special position and push with the “forcino”, a very long pole with a metal tip. The competition is both for men and women. All those from Massarella or other towns who feel up to competing are welcome. In recent years there has also been a Palio dei Barchini for women, which involves a shorter route with no curves. At the end of the competition the winner is carried in triumph and awarded the GIULIO TALINI Cup.

The Winners of the Palio of the Boats: Men

Anno Vincitore
1997 Giovanni Riccioni detto “Giovannino”
1998 Alberto Giusti
1999 Paolo Tacchi
2000 Paolo Tacchi
2001 Mauro Buralli detto “L’Aggeggino”
2002 Mauro Buralli detto “L’Aggeggino”
2003 Paolo Tacchi
2004 Emanuele Rofi detto “Il Rofi”
2005 Emanuele Rofi detto “Il Rofi”
2006 Giovanni Riccioni detto “Giovannino”
2007 Emanuele Rofi detto “Il Rofi”
2008 Emanuele Rofi detto “Il Rofi”
2009 Andrea Corpaccioli detto “Ballotta”

The Winners of the Palio of the Boats: Women

Anno Vincitrice
2004 Elisa Cardini
2005 Elisa Cardini
2006 Elisa Cardini
2007 Giulia Menichetti
2008 Elisa Cardini
2009 Erica Guidi