Battle of the Oranges - Storico Carnevale di Ivrea

Exactly a month ago, LL and I were on our way to Aosta for a day of snowboarding. We got off to a late start and as we were driving the oil light came on in the car. Since they didn't have oil at the service station on the side of the highway (of course, Italy!), we had to get off at Ivrea. LL mentioned that this was the place where they have the battle of the oranges and I remembered that it was Carnevale time. Lucky for us, we were in town on the day the battle took place!

A colleague of mine asked if I could send her pictures, videos, and/or links that would show what the orange festivities are all about and the how-tos of participating so she could include a post on her blog. She also said I could include my own personal accounts to share my experience. So I was inspired to write a blog post of my own.

Carnevale is a rich tradition and very important to the town of Ivrea. The story of the Carnevale di Ivrea is this: A baron who starved the city was driven away thanks to a miller's daughter who rebelled against the "jus prime noctis" and roused the people to revolt. The miller's daughter is the heroine of the Carnevale and the festivities begin when she parades around the town on her horse-drawn carriage waving to the crowd and throwing mimosa flowers and candies to the people.

The whole city is divided into parishes and each parish decorates their neighbourhood by displaying their flags and colours. This tradition reminded me of Tuscan cities and towns I visited this summer, such as Florence, Siena and Cortona, and of the banner men in the TV show Game of Thrones. The houses are called Picche, Morte, Tuchini, Arduini, Pantere, Diavoli, Mecenari and Credendari. Our favourite parish was the Morte. Their colours are black, red and white and their mascot looks like the Grim Reaper. In preparation for the battle, each parish has a band  composed of drummers and pipers who play music as they parade through the town. All around the city the squares are full of crates of oranges waiting to be crushed during the battle. You can really feel the excitement and energy as you walk around before the big battle.

We found what we thought was a safe spot behind a net in one of the squares and settled in for the big show. During the battle the town's people are represented by orange throwers on foot without any protection. They have shirts with drawstrings around the waist and a low cut neckline so they can literally store their ammunition inside their shirts. Their objective is to pelt oranges at the feudal lord's army, personified by the soldiers throwing oranges from horse-draw carts, who wear protective masks reminiscent of ancient armour. The lord's army do about three laps of each square before they move on to the next battle. I was really concerned for the horses who were getting caught in the cross-fire. I know from first hand experience how much getting whipped with an orange hurts. Despite hiding behind the protective net, we still got hit by people's poorly aimed oranges. I got hit in the arm and leg and L got hit in the face! We saw a lot of tourists trying to join in on the fun. If a local saw a tourist throwing oranges, they would go after them and have to initiate the tourist before they could continue fighting.

One way to avoid getting hit is by wearing the Prygian hat, or liberty cap. The hat looks like a giant red sock that kind flops to one side. If you don't own one, you can still be safe as the hats are sold in the Orange Village. In Ancient Rome, the hat was given to freed slaves, hence becoming a symbol of freedom. Even the miller's daughter was wearing one!

The Ivrea Carnevale was a really authentic and fun experience. I've been to the Carnevale in Venice and I'd say Ivrea's is much more exciting and involved. Besides the Carnevale, Ivrea seems like a really nice town that I'd like to go back and visit. I would definitely recommend this event to anyone visiting Northern Italy in February. For more information about the Storico Carnevale di Ivrea visit: http://www.storicocarnevaleivrea.it

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