Posted on February 19 2018
Italy is a country that places high importance on culture and tradition, particularly when it comes to the colourful festivals that its inhabitants have taken part in for hundreds of years. Almost every part of Italy seems to have its own celebration, no matter how tiny the village. However, there are also several large-scale festivals that take place over multiple days, famous worldwide for their unusual and outlandish customs.
One of the most peculiar of these festivals is the Storico Carnevale di Ivrea – the Carnival of Ivrea. It’s a popular story - commoners rising up against an oppressive ruler. In Ivrea however, it’s oranges not swords that are used.
Taking place in Ivrea, a town located in the city of Turin, The Storico Carnevale di Ivrea has been happening in some form since the 16th century. The festival itself comprises many different traditions, the most interesting of which is the ‘Battle of the Oranges’.
The Battle of the Oranges is, incredibly, exactly as it sounds – townspeople divide into teams to throw oranges at each other, sometimes with a considerable amount of force. Reportedly, the oranges used are ones not fit for human consumption, in order to avoid food wastage.
According to local beliefs, the origin of the Battle of the Oranges may actually be older than the Storico Carnvale itself, having begun as an annual celebration of a town-wide revolt against a 12th century tyrant. The tyrant attempted to rape a young woman on the eve on her wedding, but the woman fought him off, decapitating him, and the town’s inhabitants burned his palace to the ground.
There is no clear answer as to how the throwing of oranges began, however, popular lore says that sweets, including oranges, were originally thrown as gifts to those participating in the parade, and this quickly escalated into food fights. Another adaptation of the story is that the oranges represent the removed testicles of the tyrant, or even his head.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, citizens decided to properly plan the fight, dividing into teams for the first time.
The modern-day version of the battle still looks much the same as its first official incarnation; the Aranceri (orange throwers) compete in nine different teams, representing the townspeople. They crusade against horse-drawn carriages, which carry the Aranceri Carri de Geto (orange throwers on carts), representing the tyrant’s guards. Only the latter wear protective gear.
The struggle between the classes is represented by the lord’s followers in carts wearing jesters’ outfits, and commoners on their feet in sporting uniforms. The miller’s daughter, Violetta, is represented by a woman dressed in white and a crimson-red headdress, who throws yellow flowers and candies to her admirers.
The local community is fiercely proud and protective of their tradition. Its meaning has gone beyond the celebration of the town’s historical revolt, to become almost an identity for the area, and for the people who live there.
A popular annual tourist attraction, anyone visiting Ivrea to see the Battle of the Oranges should remember that they run the risk of getting hit themselves! The battle always take place across the last three days of the festival, from Sunday afternoon until the evening of Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras).