TO SEE | FESTIVAL
In the middle of summer, many festivals and “fêtes” are celebrated. One of them is the “joutes” event in the lovely seaside town Sète. This spectacular water jousting tournament dates from 1666 and is held annually in August during the “Fête de Saint Louis”. Water jousting is more than just a tradition, folklore and sport. It really reflects the soul of the inhabitants of Sète. Good fun to check for yourself if you want to indulge into local traditions!
Water jousting is a tradition of Languedoc region that dates back to the 17th century. Sète organised its first water jousting tournament on the 29th of July 1966 to celebrate the foundation of the port, which had a great role during the construction of the Canal du Midi. During the tournaments of the 18th century the married men opposed to the young bachelors. Red was the colour of the married men, blue the colour of the bachelors. Looking at the colours of the boats, uniforms and spears you could see to which group the men belonged. Many of these traditions are still in use today.
Salutation of jousters
These days, the boats are led by an experienced helmsman and manned by ten rowers, mostly strong fishermen. The tournament starts with a ‘passe d’honeur’, a salutation of the jousters where they show their spears vertically and shake hands when their boats cross. Once the battle starts, you will hear the traditional jousting tune, played by an oboist and a drummer who will be sitting in front of their boat. On the stands are bands that warm up the audience with traditional music, so the jousters are encouraged a lot!
There are strict rules, which I cannot really explain here (as I do not understand them very well myself…). In short: the goal of the battle is to push the opponent off the ‘tintaine’ (the small platform at the boat where the jouster stands, about 2 meters above the water level) with the ‘lance’ (a 2.80-meter long wooden spear.
Meanwhile, they have to protect themselves with their ‘pavois’, a wooden shield. The lance has an iron tip, which can hit the pavois quite hard when looking at the shield above… The one who falls into the water is followed by another jouster from that boat. The winner can battle again until he too falls in the water.
With every victory or great move, the music on the stand swells, it really is spectacular to experience! The winner of the Saint Louis tournament will get eternal fame with his name engraved on a jousting shield in the Paul Valéry museum.