L’Ardia – The festival of San Costantino

L’Ardia takes place on the 6th and 7th of July in two places in Sardinia, the most famous is in Sedilo in the province of Oristano and the other in the small village of Pozzomaggiore in the province of Sassari. This ancient horse racing festival, a dangerous, rough race with a spiritual twist is a celebration in honour of San Costantino. In actual facts this Saint is not even recognised by the Catholic Church, but the festival is nonetheless deeply rooted in the traditions of these two towns and the race represents the defence of the values of Christianity.

Hundreds of horsemen take part in the race, they parade and then gallop at breakneck speed in pairs and threes keeping the pace in a choreographic movement.

The group is led by the first three horsemen: the first one on a white horse carries the colours of the Saint and the other two just behind have the other two bands. The horsemen that follow must be careful not to ever overtake the leader, should that happen, it would be a bad omen meaning that the values of Christianity have been defeated. Before the race there is the celebration of the Mass in the main church and then the procession led by the horsemen followed by the rolling of the drums and a music band to the Sanctuary (the church of San Costantino) to return the statue of the Saint to its original place from where it had been removed earlier in the day.

With the simulacrum safe in its church, the race starts: the horsemen first gallop to the church and then around it in a series of ritual rounds that vary between three and seven amongst the cheers of the crowds who watch with excitement. The race requires extraordinary skill from the participant horsemen to control their horses especially with the spectators in such close proximity. The danger levels are high and so are the emotions of the crowd. Celebrations continue with music and shows until late in the evenings.

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