Posted by: debrakolkka | August 13, 2010

Sbandieratore – flag throwers in Alba

The modern day flag thrower has his origins in the military flag- bearer who led troops into battle in past centuries.  The flag throwers were brave, strong men who had to act quickly to transfer orders from the leaders to the troops.  It was imperitive that they not let their flag fall into enemy hands, as this could lead to confusion and defeat.  A long, high throw was essential for saving the flag.

Now the flag thrower – sbandieratore or bandieraio performs at festivals and parades.  “The art of a flag-bearer was not easy in the past as it is not easy today.  Besides having to be fit, strong and able, the bearer has to be both precise, fluid and festive as well as maintaining a military bearing rather than a circus-style bearing, so that flag throwing today is as realistic as it was in the past.” from “la Bandiera: Simbolismo, messaggio, Storia” by Luciano Artus.  I couldn’t have said it better myself.

When we were in Alba for the Truffle Festival we came upon a flag throwing competition. Groups of flag throwers, with their own backing bands from different sections – quartiere – of the town compete to be proclaimed the best.  This is Italian showing off at its absolute best.  The costumes are magnificent and the excitement is tangible.  Huge crowds gathered in the piazza to watch and we wormed our way to the front for a good view. 

leading the troops

synchronized flag throwing

As well as being very handsome, this man was amazing!

If you look at the photo above, you will see a flag balancing on the thrower’s calf.  His partner, behind, thows in an extra flag which is caught and balanced on his raised calf.  It is kicked up into his hand and then into the air.  He eventually had 5 large, and I imagine quite heavy, flags in the air.  Please note the ambulance waiting in the wings.  I’m sure nasty accidents happen with all these things flying around.

If you come across this spectacle in an Italian town, stop and watch, you won’t be disapointed.  It doesn’t matter who wins, at least not to us, just watching the participants is exciting.  The musicians are excellent as well and add to the festivity.


  1. I love all this Italian tradition and it’s very educational. Thanks.

  2. I’ve never heard of flag throwing before!

    • You have to go to Italy – I know you will love it.

  3. I cannot wait to explore Italy as you have. My knowledge of Flag Throwing is limited to movies “Under the Tuscan Sun” and I loved the idea then, your post is great. I would be in awe too watching this sort of precision athletic stuff with all that awesome history. Great post. Thanks!
    Cheers Anna

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