Game Of The Ball With The Bracelet

 

In early August the small and ancient city of Treia, in the province of Macerata, sheds its unassuming looks to host a grand tournament and renew its historical role of capital of ‘pallone col bracciale’, roughly meaning ‘wristband ball’.

This is a most ancient game that can be traced back to classic Greece and that, for centuries, was considered the typical Italian sport. It is played on a large rectangular field with one very tall wall on one of its longer sides: two teams composed of three players each compete hurling a heavy leather ball back and forth, and trying to make the opposition miss the volley. The ball can be bounced on the side wall, but when it touches the ground the serving team scores one point. The wristband in the name is a very peculiar wooden cylinder weighing about 2 kilograms. The inside is hand sculpted to fit each player’s wrist conformation, while the outside is completely covered with wooden spikes. This dangerous-looking item is used quite like a tennis racket: the blows are so violent that the ball frequently rips and bursts – adding to the exclusivity of the game, since the only ballmaking artisans in the whole country are in fact in Treia, and they produce them by hand.

Treia was also the home town of Carlo Didimi, the biggest star player in this sport, who lived in the late 1700s and became so popular that he was even immortalized in a poem by the famous poet Giacomo Leopardi. Didimi was such a symbol of Pallone col bracciale that when he died the whole sport quickly faded away from pretty much everywhere but Treia. The first reenactment of the Disfida (transl. ‘challenge’) came in 1978. The event grew steadily year after year until it became a ten-days long festival, and its popularity got national recognition in 1992 with the foundation of a proper Pallone col bracciale association and championship. Today the Disfida includes many side events including a food festival focused on local products and historical recipes, a music festival, extravagant fireworks and a 4 am free breakfast in the main city square attracting thousands of participants.