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The Black Rooster of Chianti: a Tuscan Legend

Welcome to Saravventura, I'm Sara, artist and writer. I retell folktales and illustrate them. Today's retelling is The Legend of Gallo Nero, the story of a black rooster and how he became the symbol of Chianti. There's cheaters, chickens, and wine, what's not to like? Let's get started.

How do you want to hear this story? Quick and Dirty or do you want the Deep Dive?

These are details from my illustration of The Legend of Gallo Nero a retelling by Sara from Saravventura. Click to expand and find out their names.

The Quick and Dirty: What does Wine have to do with Chickens?

The Legend of the Gallo Nero + Cheating Tuscans = Chianti Classico

  1. The Legend of the Gallo Nero: the story of how a black rooster (Gallo Nero) ended a war between Siena and Florence, who had been fighting over Chianti region. (see the full story below, but basically Florence cheated)

  2. This story becomes so legendary; Renaissance politicians use the black rooster on their maps to mark the Chianti territory.

  3. Then, hundreds of years later, Chianti wine is famous around the world but there are fake Chianti wine producers ruining their reputation.

  4. In reaction to the cheating winemakers, in 1872 the legacy winemakers in Chianti team up to form the first quality assurance team (Consorzio del Marchio Storico-Chianti Classico).

  5. The Barone Ricasoli writes down the official Chianti formula, whim bam boom, everyone agrees and they use the the black rooster Gallo Nero to mark the real-deal Chianti Classico bottles.

And that my friends is why there's a chicken on your wine bottle.

I hope that was quick and dirty enough for you. If you want to know more, see the deep dive below. It's a retelling of the Legend of Gallo Nero, which accompanies the watercolor piece!

Also, check out my Chianti Chickens in my Etsy shop, where all my illustrations and landscapes are as vibrant and detailed as the one below. Prints are offered in 9 different sizes to fit your vibrant and eclectic space!

Chianti Classico Labels throughout the centuries. 1384 is the earliest rendition of Gallo Nero representing the Chianti Region. The Allegory of Chianti (Allegoria del Chianti)was painted by Giorgio Vasari in 1563/1565

The Deep Dive:

Ooooo so you're a deep-diver, like me! Ok let's jump into it.

The summer my mom and my sister got back from a wine tasting tour in Chianti. They came came back with one story, The Legend of the Black Rooster of Chianti. and two pieces of wisdom:

  1. *spit* when you go wine tasting in Chianti and

  2. if it's got a Black Rooster sticker, it's the real Chianti Classico

The story was so funny and so I did my own research and found more details. And now, I will retell the story of The Legend of the Black Rooster of Chianti.

The Story of How a Black Rooster became the Symbol of Chianti Classico

All I’m saying is, it was not the Gallo Nero's fault the Florentines were cheaters. As far as he knew, it was already morning, so he crowed and started a legendary horserace to end the war in Chianti. He didn't know his voice would define the Chianti region for centuries. He was just a hungry chicken and his likeness would then be recreated on palace ceilings and Tuscan shields. The Gallo Nero, a black rooster, peppers the Chianti region on every single Chianti Classico and Riservas wine bottle. This is a story about the night Gallo Nero became a legend.

Once Upon a Time in Tuscany

The Sienese and Florentine city-states were warring over the Chianti territory for decades. To end this bloody war they agreed to a race between their best knights on their fastest horses. The riders would “set out from each city at cock-crow, and that the point at which they met would determine the boundary” (Morelli) between Siena and Florence.

When they say "cock-crow" it implies the race starts at dawn, but technically the start of the race was determined by the first rooster to crow.

Geographically, Siena being on a hill should have had a head start, as their chickens would have seen the sun rise first.

The story goes that the Sienese were pretty confident this would be a fair race and lean in their favor. They have the fastest horses in Tuscany so they chose a fat white rooster, whom they fed well and went to sleep.

The Florentines, however, had different plans. Noting the cock-crow as the start time, they chose the Gallo Nero, whom they starved and held in a dark cage for days. Hoping to disorient him and force him to crow earlier than dawn.

Sure enough, on the night of the legendary race, the Florentines took the Gallo Nero out of his cage, and since the light had changed he crowed in the middle of the night. At the sound of the Gallo Nero, the Florentine knight set off from the Florence gates while the Sienese knight was still sleeping.

By the time the Sienese knight heard his rooster and left Siena, The Florentine knight was already in Fonterutoli, only 12 km (7 miles) from the Siena's gates.

Siena was bitter having lost so much of the Chianti territory to the Florentines. But since technically the knight left exactly at cock-crow, the Florentines moved their border across the Chianti Valley. The war ended and the Gallo Nero became a legend.

Thank you for stopping by!

xoxo ciao!


artist | writer from Saravventura

sarà un'avventura | it will be an adventure


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