I had spent three fabulous days with my cousins. We had visited the sights of Florence, spent a day visiting two medieval towns in Tuscany and even did a Chianti tasting! Now they were off to tour more of Italy to the south and I was left to my own devices for a couple of days before leaving Italy. I decided to get out my map and explore the city a little more.
To me Florence is a combination of Cinque Terre to the north, with it’s pastel colored buildings and Rome to the south, with it’s ancient architecture, sculptures and streets. There is plenty to see all within a small walking radius.
The city was alive that weekend with football (soccer to us North Americans) fever! There were people everywhere wearing the Italian team colors cheering and having a great time. Every restaurant had large TV screens set up so everyone could watch the Euro 2016.
I was making my way down via del Corso when I heard from a few streets over what sounded like a marching band or parade. I followed the sound until I came upon a parade of men wearing brightly colored costumes. It was a party atmosphere with some of the marchers stopping to chat with onlookers.
I wasn’t sure what it was all about. It didn’t seem to be about football and I was pretty sure it wasn’t a gay pride parade! So later in the day I Googled and learned that it was for a game that is only played in Florence, only in the month of June, and dates back to the 16th century called Calcio Storico (“historic football”) Fiorentino.
The four teams of the historical neighborhoods of Florence play against each other; two semi-finals; then the final match to determine the winner. The four teams are: Santa Croce (blue), Santo Spirito (white), Santa Maria Novella (red), and San Giovanni (green).
Each game starts with a parade that leaves piazza Santa Maria Novella at 4 o’clock in the afternoon and passes by piazza Santa Maria Novella, via del Sole, via della Spada, via Strozzi, piazza della Repubblica, via degli Speziali, via Calzaiuoli, piazza della Signoria, via della Ninna, via de’ Neri, Borgo Santa Croce, and ends at piazza Santa Croce where the game is played.
Piazza Santa Croce is directly in front of the Basilica of Santa Croce and the game has always been played here. The square is covered in dirt just as it was back in the 16th century.
Even though the parade can have a party atmosphere, the game is taken very seriously and is brutal! In 1574 Henry III of France described the match as, “Too small to be a real war and too cruel to be a game.”
The calico was first played in February 1530 when Florence was under siege by the Imperial and Spanish armies. It was how the Florentines decided to show the armies on the other side of the walls that the long siege was not having the effect they were hoping for.
The Calcio Storico Fiorentino is a combination of soccer, rugby and ultimate wrestling. The modern version of calcio allows head-butting, punching, elbowing, and choking. The only rule is chivalry and respect for your opponent, which means not taking advantage if they are on the ground or coming up to them from behind. Other than that there are no rules!
Points,”caccia”, can be earned two ways; by scoring goals, throwing or kicking the ball over a designated spot on the field; or when a team misses the net and the opposing team is awarded with half a caccia. The teams change sides with every caccia scored.
There are 27 players “calciante” per team and each game is played at 5 o’clock pm in traditional costume for a period of 50 minutes with the winner being the team with the most points or “cacce” scored.
The celebrations end along the banks of the Arno River with fireworks launched from Piazzale Michelangelo!
The final winning team used to receive a cow. Today the prize is a free dinner, which isn’t much considering that the players train three times a week for about nine months! The real prize is knowing that the determination of the ancient Florentines is being honored and carried on.