Tuscany in Summertime: Calcio Storico Fiorentino

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The city of Florence is known for its beautiful art, delicious food, and eclectic mixture of events.  It's easy to see why so many people choose to reserve their luxury Tuscan villa rentals in the city, it seems like there's always something going on in the region.  Sports fans would love visiting the city in June where a very unique sporting event takes place.  Calcio Storico Fiorentino is a celebration of history and sportsmanship, and like many traditions in the city, this all started during the region's ancient days.

Roman legionaries had a unique method for training their warriors.  They would play a game the ancient Greeks invented called "Sferomachia", a game that's like a mixture of wrestling and soccer.  Two teams of equal numbers would play on opposite sides of a field, and the goal was to bring a ball over to the opponent's field by any means necessary.  Players would engage in head-to-head combat, and the Roman people enjoyed the game so much that soon everybody in the empire wanted in on the activity.

By the 16th century all of Florence was in love with the game.  The game used to be played exclusively by the aristocrats of the city, but the game's popularity spread among every citizen in the city.  Young Florentines practiced the sport in nearly every street and town square, and there are even a few popes who played the game.  Soon the games were organized during every Carnival season, but eventually because of changing times and opinions the game fell out of popularity for a few centuries.

Organized matches didn't begin again until the 20th century, and in 1930 the first official game in centuries was played.  Now the games take place during the 3rd week of June in the Piazza Santa Croce.  Four teams participate in the games and each one represents the city's four districts, the team members can be identified by their colors: Santa Croce wears blue, Santa Maria Novella wears red, Santo Spirito wears white, and San Giovanni wears green.  The modern version of the game eliminated some of the more dangerous aspects of the original game, but the approved tactics are still pretty rough.  Players are allowed to head-butt, punch, elbow, and even choke others, but sucker-punching and kicks to the head are forbidden. 

The winners go on to play during the final tournament on June 24th, the day of Florence's patron saint San Giovanni (the saint we know as St. John the Baptist).  The final match isn't the only thing to see in the city on the 24th.  Each year there's a parade full of people in historical Renaissance clothing, and they march from the Piazza Santa Maria Novella to the match in the Piazza Santa Croce.  The night ends with a breath taking fireworks display that's launched from Piazzale Michelangelo. 

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