Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Sunday Times 'Knights on the town in Sardinia'

These are the Componidori, or knights, of the Sardinian town of Oristano - and, if the commercialised extravaganzas of Venice and Rio have lost their appear, perhaps you should see how these gentlemen celebrate carnival.

It's called Sa Sartiglia (sartiglia.info), it takes place from February 10-12, and the principle is simple:  if a demigod can pierce with his sword a palm-sized silver star suspended in the street while at full gallop, evil will wither, disease will desist, crops will thrive and children will be born.  It's therefore important to choose the right demigod, known as Su Componidori - a local lad who knows his way around a horse and is pure of heart and mind.  Many are called, but only two are chosen:  one for each of the participating gremios, or guilds, and both in utter secrecy.

On the big day, he is laid on an altar and dressed by virgins in reverential silence.  Mounting his horse without touching the ground - to do so would compromise his purity - he emerges into the packed streets dressed in a top hat, a lace-edged mantilla and that disturbing, expressionless, androgynous mask.  No longer human, he is the incarnation of an old god, carrying a bouquet of periwinkles and violets (representing fertility and spring), and bearing the fate of the city on his shoulders.

The star is suspended on Via del Duomo.  He will pass three times under it, then he will charge, sword extended to pierce - or miss - the tin star.  If he succeeds, he will turn the horse, lie flat on its back and gallop back down the street, and if you're impressed by that, you've seen nothing yet.

Now it's the Componidori's turn to impress and your turn to give thanks.  They have to gallop down Via Mazzini, standing upright on their horses;  you have to thank whatever god you like that you don't have to take part.

Watch with Just Sardinia 01202 484858 justsardinia.co.uk which have three nights at the boutique Maison Tresnuraghes from £299pp B&B including flights and car hire.

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