The Legend of Chianti’s Black Rooster (Gallo Nero)

 

Everywhere you go in Chianti you are bound to be met by a black rooster, the symbol of Chianti. If Chianti is Tuscany’s “wine country”, then why not a more appropriate symbol such as a grape vine? A rooster does not seem to have much to do with wineries, logically.

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Much in Italy is about tradition….and traditions run long (centuries long). And where there are traditions there are also historical events peppered with legends. The “Black Rooster”, (“Gallo Nero”  in Italian) is a fine example of both.

Historically there has never been much love lost between the republics of Florence and Siena, two powerful rivalries in an almost continuous conflict with each other in regards to dominance over the land and expanding territories. The 13th and 15th centuries were defined by battles and frictions…the most famous being the Battle of Montaperti in 1260 that involved the conflict between the Guelphs (the faction that supported the Pope which controlled Florence) and Ghibelines (the faction that supported the Holy Roman Emperor that controlled Siena)….the Ghibelines won the battle.

Florence occupied the northern region of Tuscany, and Siena the southern region, with Chianti in the middle – a territory much desired by both republics and much disputed over as each sought to increase their territories.  To resolve the conflict, tradition holds that during the Medieval times the rivaling republics decided that instead of fighting a war over the land, it would be decided in a race: one horseman from each republic would depart from each capital and wherever the two horsemen would meet in the middle it would be the deciding point of the border.

Each side selected their best horseman and fastest horse. The Sienese chose a special white rooster that was very well taken care of for such an important event. The Florentine picked a black rooster that was kept in a dark pen with very little food for the days prior to the race.  On the morning of the race the ravenous black rooster crowed as soon as he was let out of his dark pen even though it wasn’t yet daylight, signaling to the Florentine horseman to start the race.  The Florentine horsemen had great head start before the white rooster crowed at the crack of dawn signaling the Sienese horseman’s departure, meeting the Sienese horseman only about 8 miles from Siena’s city wall giving Florence the greatest advantage and biggest land-grab.

As a result of the race almost all of the Chianti region became part of the Florentine Republic and the Black Rooster became the symbol of Chianti.

Whether or not Florence cheated in the race with their rooster, this is the story that the Sienese have stuck to for centuries.

The tides eventually turned for the Republic of Siena when it lost the the Battle of Marciano against the Grand Duchy of Florence, and eventually the Republic of Siena ceased to exist as it was incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.  This defining Battle of Marciano that took place in the countryside of Marciano della Chiana near Arezzo in August of 1554 was depicted in an enormous painting by Giorgio Vasari inside Palazzo Vechio’s Salone del Cinquecento.

You will see many symbols of the Black Rooster on our tours through Chianti.

For more information about private day tours and wine tasting in Chianti region, please visit our website at www.ChiantiTours.com. We look forward to hear from you and to share our beautiful Tuscany with you!

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