Italian performers charm audience in Beyrouth’s Centre-Ville

29Mar10

Tourists and locals strolling through Nijmeh Square in Beyrouth’s Centre-Ville on Thursday afternoon were intrigued by an astonishing spectacle: a formation of flag-bearers, drummers and trumpeters dressed in medieval costumes performing an elaborate show for half an hour before leaving the square as suddenly as they had appeared.

The bystanders had been lucky enough to witness the famous Sbandieratori di Arezzo, an Italian folklore group that had been invited to Lebanon to entertain Italy’s UNIFIL contingent in the south, and that was now performing in Beyrouth’s Centre-Ville.

The Sbandieratori, or flag-wavers, stem from an ancient tradition of chivalry and communal pride.

In medieval times, the flag-wavers were important in battle, so the soldiers knew who was a friend and who an enemy,” explained Madonna Hakim, from the Italian Embassy. “But they also represented specific Arezzo neighborhoods or families at celebrations.

In 1931, the Association of Flag-Wavers was founded to revive the tradition, and the groups enjoyed considerable success in the 1960s. Arezzo’s Sbandieratori were the first to form an organization, and they remain the most prestigious of these groups.

We’ve performed at World Cups, the Olympics, before the British Queen and the Japanese Emperor,” said Hugo Coppini, the association’s president, who presided over the flag-wavers dressed in a blue tunic.

The show certainly made an impression on the roughly 200 spectators at Nijmeh Square. Hurling their flags high into the air, catching and juggling them effortlessly, performing intricate choreographies, daring jumps and summersaults.

Mesmerized by the flash of colors and movement, the audience cheered them along enthusiastically. “It’s very beautiful, it makes me feel almost patriotic for Italy,” said Philippine de Clermont Tonnere, a tourist from France.

The flag-bearers, carrying Italian, Lebanese and UN flags as well as their traditional emblems from Arezzo, see themselves as ambassadors for their community and Italy. In Beyrouth, they certainly succeeded in leaving a colorful impression of their country.