The Santa Marija horse races originated in medieval times and not in 1587, as was incorrectly stated in the item ‘Delay horse races, animal commissioner pleads’ (August 17).
These races were organised as an incentive for the cavalrymen of Id-Dejma, the local militia, to keep their horses in excellent form. They vied with each other for the coveted prizes. During the over half-a-millennium-long history of the races, it is recorded that there have been flat races for horses, mares, mules, donkeys as well as for young men.
A 1587 document, which I first published in November 1992 and that, henceforth, been quoted without acknowledgement by many, does not refer to the beginning of these races. The document (photo, courtesy National Archives Gozo) consists of the minutes of a meeting of the Gozo Universitas, the regional government of Gozo at that time, held on July 10, 1587.
During the meeting, that was exceptionally presided over by Fra Pietro Spina, Governor of Gozo, two important decisions were made regarding these medieval Santa Marija races. It was, first, decided to increase the number of paljijiet given as prizes to entice more participation.
Secondly, the Universitas decided that, henceforth, horses brought over from Malta for the races were to remain in Gozo. Their owners were obliged to find Gozitans ready to purchase them. This would augment Id-Dejma’s cavalry in emergencies. The start of the races was announced by the firing of a salvo from the Citadel.
Is it conceivable to suggest to the city of Siena to suppress its world-famous Paglio di Siena? As much in Gozo!
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