Faceless horsemen perform acrobatic stunts during the annual Sa Sartiglia festival, when old tradition enters modern time.
Every year, a troop of horsemen wearing frightening doll masks and frilly clothes gallop past cheering crowds lining the otherwise sleepy city of Oristano on the Italian island of Sardinia. A mosaic of symbols deeply rooted in this centuries-old Sardinian tradition surround the riotous jousting, equestrian shows, and acrobatics underneath steepled churches in the old city. Celebrating contradictions, the three-day festival of Sa Sartiglia pushes medieval spectacle into modern times.
Sa Sartiglia falls between the last Sunday of Carnival and Shrove Tuesday, ushering in spring. The frenzy of Carnival season encourages overindulgence and transgression before Lent’s sober time of prayer and penance in the weeks leading up to the Easter holiday. Here in Oristano, the spectacle begins with the flourish of trumpeters riding horses iced in flowers, before quiet maidens sew the protagonist of the event, the Su Componidori, into costume. The chosen figure, after dressing, must mount his horse without touching the ground before leading the other competitors in the upcoming challenges and games.