Renaissance Football-Florence, Italy

Calcio Storico/ photo by Lorenzo Noccioli


Summer is here! This is the time of year when I can’t wait to hear about where everybody is running off to. This is the time of year I have my radar up and love to exchange travel ideas with people so please let me know what you all are up to. I especially love off the beaten path travel even though most paths are becoming pretty well-worn in the world but I live with the idea that if something hasn’t been discovered by you, it hasn’t been discovered completely.      

For anyone heading off to Florence, Italy towards the end of June, don’t miss the Calcio Storico (costumed football) match. Don’t be fooled. It has been compared to Greco-Roman wrestling and rugby with a hint of soccer. In my opinion, hockey players have nothing on these guys where brutality is concerned. It’s off the charts. Even if you’re not really into sports, this is a spectacle like you’ve never seen. Strictly a Florentine sport, it’s like a rugby match filled with all the blood, teeth knocked-out kind of brutality you would expect from this kind of football. It’s awesome! Set in the Piazza Santa Croce, the square is transformed into a sand-filled mini stadium for the event. That’s right, sand and old concrete and a pile of pumped up footballers sticking your face into it. There’s a reason why this is so brutal. However, prior to the start of the match, a beautiful pageant takes place which consists of the players in full Renaissance attire, (at least they start out that way), flag bearers, drummers, horsemen, foot soldiers in armor, and prominent figures in the city participating in a long procession which starts at one neighborhood and winds its way around the immediate area to the site of the match. Most are dressed in some form of Renaissance costume and you instantly feel transported back to the 16th century. You can imagine the kind of entrance the procession makes upon entering the stadium with the drummers and trumpeters blazing away.        

The teams consist of four teams, White (Bianchi), Green, (Verdi), Blue, (Azzuri) and Red (Rossi) representing different neighborhoods of Florence. Their costumes show their colors but for the most part they end up only wearing the balloon style pants and shoes since everything eventually gets torn to shreds. There’s a reason why this is so much fun to watch until they start splitting each other’s heads open.       

What’s the prize for the winning team you ask? Bistecche, which translates into beef steaks. And the notoriety of being the badass team of the Calcio Storico. If only American athletes could be pleased so easily.        

Spanning over 500 years, the sport has shocked kings and has evolved into one which allows choking, punching, elbowing, kicking, head-butting, you name it. I almost think that the referees, 6 of them, are there for show. I still don’t really understand what rules anyone would be breaking in a game which has no rules but hey…why question tradition? Having said that, I’m not one to promote violence but this is just an all-out ass whipping.  That’s why the entire event is so interesting and entertaining. It’s difficult to ignore the fact that this takes place in the beautiful city which is home to The Birth of Venus yet houses a modern-day gladiator sport. You gotta love balance. I loved stumbling upon this event and have been suggesting it to travelers ever since. If you have a weak stomach and feel like it’s testosterone overload, then go for the pageant and just absorb the entire scene. It’s truly special.        

The best way to get tickets to the Calcio Storico is through hotel concierges in the city. Online ticket brokers can be difficult to work with from the states and trust me, having dealt with someone strictly online in pre-booking events from the states can be a “challenge.” You must use someone reputable which is why I suggest a hotel concierge or a reputable tour company or a broker who has been around a while and has references. It’s a hot ticket in the summer just as the Palio is to Sienna so it’s something to jump on right away. Like anything else in Italy, it may not be easy to instantly buy tickets to events but it will be completely worth the extra effort.      

When:  June 24-June 28 2010. It’s usually around June 24 every year.      

Where: Piazza Santa Croce      

Sports plays a societal role in engendering jingoist and chauvinist attitudes. They’re designed to organize a community to be commited to their gladiators.     

~Avram Noam Chomsky     




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