Water Jousting in Sète

by Sarah de Winne
Published: Last Updated on 0 comment

Nestled within the picturesque Languedoc-Rousillon region of the South of France lies the vibrant coastal town of Sète.  During a chance visit, we stumbled upon an extraordinary sight – the exhilarating and unique tradition of water jousting in Sète, known as “Joutes” in French.  We were soon swept up in the exciting atmosphere and the centuries-old spectacle unfolding before our eyes.

Water-Jousting-in-Sète-Red-Boat
Water-Jousting-in-Sète-Red-Boat

Joutes is an ancient sport that dates to the 17th century in Sète but is still a lively annual tradition.  It combines strength, skill, and sheer excitement as participants duel on boats, engaging in thrilling jousting battles upon the glistening waters of the Canal Royal during the summer months.

Fascinated by this cultural tradition right on our doorstep, we couldn’t resist digging into the interesting world of water jousting in Sète and to share information about this ancient tradition that has stood the test of time.  Join us as we uncover the basic rules of Joutes, trace its fascinating historical roots, and unveil the secrets to fully immersing yourself in this unforgettable spectacle.

The Basics of Joutes (Water Jousting)

Water jousting, the heart and soul of Sète’s cultural heritage, is a thrilling tournament that takes place during the summer months.  The tournament is carried out on red and blue jousting boats with a crew of 10 rowers dressed in white.  In days gone by, the blue boat was a team of bachelors, whereas the red team were married men.

The objective of the game of Joutes is simple but not without danger!  Two jousters, one on each boat, attempt to knock their opponent off balance and into the water using a 2.8-metre-long wooden lance with iron tip.  If a jouster is knocked into the water, they are replaced by a new competitor from a tender boat and the competition continues.

The jousters stand on special platforms called “la tintaine” at the stern of their boats about 2 metres above the water.  They display remarkable balance and strength as they are rowed towards each other at speed with their lance outstretched, protecting their chest with a small wooden shield called a “pavois”.

Passe-d'Honneur-Joutes-in-Sete
Passe-d’Honneur-Joutes-in-Sete

The Joutes tournament starts with a “passe d’honneur”. Jousters salute each other by displaying their lances vertically as the two boats cross.  When the battle commences, two musicians sitting at the front of each boat set the pace for the rowers by playing a tune called the “la peña” on a traditional Languedoc oboe and drum called a “tambornet”.

Joutes-Musicians-in-Sète
Joutes-Musicians-in-Sète

Joutes matches are typically played by teams representing different neighbourhoods of Sète, creating an electric atmosphere as passionate locals gather to cheer on their champions. The competition is intense, with participants displaying remarkable precision, agility, and courage.  The Saint-Louis tournament held in Sète at the end of August is the most celebrated and important water jousting competition for the sport.

A Glimpse into the History of Joutes in Sète

Joutes in Sète has a rich historical background that dates to 1666 when the port was inaugurated.  Originally a knightly combat game, water jousting emerged as a way for sailors and fishermen to showcase their bravery and skills. Over time, the sport evolved into a symbol of Sète’s maritime heritage and became deeply ingrained in the town’s identity.

Joutes-in-Sète-Red-Boat
Joutes-in-Sète-Red-Boat

Today, Joutes in Sète is not only a fiercely competitive sport but also a celebration of tradition and community. The matches are accompanied by vibrant parades, lively music, and colourful festivities, providing an immersive and authentic experience for spectators

When and Where to Watch Water Jousting in Sète, France

If you find yourself in Sète during the summer months, experiencing the magnificent spectacle of Joutes is an absolute must. The town hosts various Joutes tournaments throughout the season, with the most prominent taking place during the Saint-Louis Festival in late August. During this festival, Sète becomes a hub of excitement, attracting locals and visitors alike.

The ancient sport of Joutes is played on part of the Royal Canal in Sète known as “Le Cadre Royal”.  This part of the canal is situated between two bridges: le pont de la Civette and le pont de la Savonnerie. We parked along the Quai de Bosc which was a short walk from this area.

Pont-de-la-Civette-in-Sète
Pont-de-la-Civette-in-Sète

To enjoy the best view of the action, head to the banks of the Royal Canal, where grandstands are set up to accommodate spectators. The atmosphere is electric, with cheers and applause filling the air to the sound of a band as the jousters clash on the water. You can feel the adrenaline and excitement as each duel unfolds.

Joutes-Tournament-in-Sète
Joutes-Tournament-in-Sète

Immerse yourself in the festivities further by watching the tournaments from one of the many restaurants that line the canal. Take the opportunity to enjoy local cuisine, such as fresh seafood (Rouille de seiche à la sétoise perhaps) and regional wines to enhance your overall experience of this remarkable event.

Final Thoughts on Water Jousting in Sète …

Water jousting in Sète is not just a sport; it’s an extraordinary cultural experience that immerses you in the town’s rich history and vibrant atmosphere. The combination of skill, tradition, and the picturesque setting of Sète’s canals creates a captivating spectacle that will leave you in awe. So, if you’re seeking an unforgettable day out, make sure to include Joutes in your itinerary when visiting this charming town in the south of France.

You may also like