paliomarinaro2 - Livorno

Boat races in Livorno: historic rivalry between the town's districts

Among the famous sea races in Italy

Livorno is a port town with strong sporting and seafaring traditions. Every year there are rowing competitions held here between the town's 'rioni' (districts). These races date back many years and each of the districts has a distinctive coat of arms and its own personal colours, which also have historical roots. The Benci-Centre colours are white and yellow and are referred to by the film 'Ovo sodo' ('Boiled Egg'), by Livornese director Paolo Virzì.  

The most important part of the competition is the Marine Palio. Everyone in the city gets behind their team in this race which takes place in the sea in front of Terrazza Mascagni - one of the most beautiful spots on the town's seafront. The race was created in 1400 as a regata in honour of Cosimo de' Medici. Over the centuries, the Marine Palio race has become increasingly important for the town's citizens. The winning district are awarded a 'drappo' (cloth) which, in honour of Sienese tradition, is called the Palio. 

Another of the most spectacular and interesting rowing competitions in the town is the Barontini Cup which is held in June. The race, which takes place in the evening, also has teams representing each of Livorno's districts. The teams compete against the clock to row around the old Medici canals, passing through some of the oldest and most historic areas of the town, all of which are lit up in celebration of the event. The town's citizens cheer their team from the bridges and alongside the canals. There is a real party atmosphere and all the windows along the route are all decorated with banners representing the various districts. The race ends in the small bay near the Fortezza Nuova.

The Risiatori Cup is another naval competition in Livorno which dates back to a law established by the Medici rulers in the seventeenth century which stated that the fastest ships were permitted to dock at the town's port. The race takes place at the end of June and its name comes from the Italian 'arrisicare', meaning 'to risk'. In fact, this race is held in memory of those who risked their lives by taking on the might of the sea. Only the top eight districts take part in this race. The teams set off from the Meloria Tower (historically symbolic of sea battles) and row a very tough 7.6km to the port.    

Gozzi and gozzette: the boats
The boats currently used in the races are known locally as 'gozzi' and 'gozzette'.  Gozzi have 5 oarsmen and a cox, while gozzette have 2 oarsmen and a cox. There are two kinds of gozzette: the older style made of wood and the more modern kind made of fibreglass. The older, wooden ones are used in the Minipalio, or children's race, while the modern glassfibre boats are used in the adult races. The gozzi, with their 5 oarsmen and cox, are made from wood and are 9.2m long and 2.36m wide. The weight of the gozzi has increased around 15kg over the years to about 600 kg today. The boat consists of two cedar planks which are 12cm thick. They are attached to each other with marine glue after having been sewn together with an amazing 100,000 stiches which are removed once the glue has set. This technique makes the boats completely watertight. The gozzi used in the competitions today were first launched in 1973 and subsequently require a great deal of maintentance to keep them sea-worthy. The oars are made from carbon fibre and are 4m long and weigh around 4kg each. Each district has a 'nautical team' who are allowed to overhaul their boats from March to make them ready for the Marine Palio in June.