Anyone passing by Piazza Armerina in the second week of August will find this Sicilian city engrossed in the celebrations and activities surround the "Palio dei Normanni".
The celebrations re-enact a key historical moment for Sicily and Italy from the middle ages, although it is not certain that it took place in Piazza Armerina.
The younger son of the Norman king Tancredi d'Altavilla, Count Ruggero I di Sicilia came to Sicily in 1061 to help his bother Roberto il Guiscardo to free the island from the Saracens. Roberto was on a mission authorised from Pope Niccolo II as the first step towards freeing the whole of the South of Italy from the Saracens. The Pope gave Ruggero a flag with a depiction of the Madonna and baby Jesus. A flag that, according to legends, Count Ruggero offered the city of Piazza Armerina to display in their Cathedral.
To commemorate these events the town holds three days of celebrations starting on the 12th of August up to the 14th where the Palio takes place.
On the 12th of August there is a parade in period dress through the town. A "Gran Maestro" (the historical name of the leader of the town) leads the people to the Cathedral where mass takes places and the knights of the historical "contrade" of the city are blessed - Canali, Casalotto, Castellina and Monte. These are the contrade that will take part in the palio of the 14th of August.
On the 13th, from the centre of each contrada four processions start all directed towards the Piazza in front of the Cathedral - once all at the meeting point the Gran Maestro offers Conte Ruggero a gift from the city - the city keys - in a show of gratitude.
On the 14th the Palio itself takes place. The Palio is made up of 4 events:
1. Hit the shield of a Saracen with a lance
2. Hit the shield of a Saracen with a flail
3. Get a ring of a Saracen with a lance
4. Launch a spear through a ring
Points are given to the winners of each event and the contrada with the most points wins the tournament.
Finally the celebrations are completed with a victory procession throughout town by the winning team that receives the congratulations and envious looks from the other teams.