Share this publication
Ivrea Carnival – The Battle of the Oranges!
Saturday, 22nd February 2020
Tuesday 25th February 2020
The Centuries Old Middle-Ages Carnival
Carnival of Ivrea also known as the Carnival of the Oranges, is one of Italy’s most colourful and historic carnivals that is steeped in tradition. Ivrea Carnival is held annually before the onset of lent in the Piedmontese town of Ivrea.
The carnival dates to the Middle Ages and is a symbolic representation marking the freedom of Ivrea from oppression, starvation and tyranny. Ivrea Carnival is not only one of the most unique festivals in the world but also one of the oldest carnivals in the world.
Famous in Italy, the historic Ivrea Carnival is recognised as an ‘Italian event of international importance’. Ivrea is described as a special area in Italy that has an abundance of art, history, architecture and natural beauty.
Carnival first took place in Ivrea in 1808 because the cities French administrators decided to combine all the rowdy celebrations that were occurring around the city and turn them into one large carnival celebration.
The Battle of the Oranges
Ivrea is quiet, ancient Roman town, full of hard-working people. Tourists come to visit grand castles, locals play football, it is your average North Italian town. However, for 3- days every year the normally quiet town divides into nine tribes.
The townsfolk put on helmets and protective gear and hurl massive amounts of oranges at one another, in an aggressive manner, in attempts to ‘kill’ the other teams, in what is known as the Battle of the Oranges.
The Battle of the Oranges is the highlight and most famous event at the Ivrea Carnival, that commemorates the civil war that occurred between the people of Ivrea and the Royal Napoleonic Troops, which broke out the day after hated tyrant Raineri di Biandrate, was slain.
The Battle of Oranges is Italy’s largest food fight that sees over 500,000 pounds of oranges thrown throughout the city’s main streets and squares, symbolising the people of Ivrea’s right to self-rule. The Battle of the begins on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and ends on Shrove Tuesday.
A Young Heroine Decapitates Tyrant & Frees the City
The main protagonist of Ivrea Carnival is a young heroine named Violetta, who was the daughter of the local Miller. She is the carnival hero, because legend has it that she was the brave young lady that killed the hated tyrant Conte Ranieri di Biandrate.
The tyrant had created a law that meant he had the right to spend the first night with every bride in the city. However, Violetta rebelled against the Conte, and on her wedding night she chopped of his head and waved it triumphantly from the balcony.
This act sparked a huge rebellion in Ivrea that ended the hated Biandrate family rule and expelled the family from the city, which then became governed as a free municipality.
Protesting with Beans
Originally beans were thrown to symbolise the contempt the poor had, because it was said that the evil Tyrant only provided poor families with just two measly pot of beans twice a year to starve of their hunger.
Hence, the beans were thrown to express their outrage at such an offensive gesture. Over the years this evolved, and people started to throw sugared almonds, confetti and flowers.
It has been speculated that the town started to throw oranges because of the excessive amount of citrus fruit that was being produced in the region of Nice.
The Nine Tribes of Ivrea
The Battle of Oranges is fought between nine different teams who are divided by district. The teams go around on foot and represent the townsfolk who revolved against Napoleons Troops. Each team has its own colours, clothing and symbols that are plastered on banners and flags.
When the battle commences its is the responsibility of your team to defend its territory against the imaginary tyrannical Napoleon troops.
Each of the nine teams have their own established location within the city; the Ace of Spades who are the oldest team has their pitch established in the main town square which it shares with the Aranceri of Death team.
Ottinetti square is home to the Scacchi and the Scorpions of Arduino teams while the Borghetto Tuchini throw from the right bank of the Dora Baltea. The Black Panthers, the Devils and the Mercenaries fight in Piazza del Rondolino and the last group called the Credendari Aranceri can be found in Freguglia square.
“Fighting” the Royal Napoleonic Troops
The Napoleon Troops are also played by some locals who go around on horse drawn carriages and play the role of the feudal armies, pelting you and your family with oranges. The townsfolks fight back as hard as they possibly can, throwing oranges back at the troops, and this goes on and on.
Oranges fill the air, and for days on end, oranges whiz through the air hitting people on the back, face, head. The Battle of Oranges is a rowdy event and not for the faint hearted you may end up with a few ‘war’ bruises at the end of it, split lips, and black eyes are not an uncommon sight.
The orange throwers on horses drawn portraying Napoleons Troops carts are split into 35 carriages each with two horses and 19 quadrilles. They head into Ivrea’s town squares for several minutes which starts up the battle against the teams on foot.
The Horses are the stars of the show, and don’t worry, they are always treated with care and love.
Meanwhile all throughout the city streets while the battle rages, there are numerous other carnival events occurring like parades, floats, folk and music groups performing that come from all over Europe.
Everyone Can Join the Battle
Everyone can join in the Battle of the Oranges, but you’re not forced to compete, you can simply go and just observe the craziness. To avoid getting hit by an orange, there are a couple of ways you can go about it.
There are several areas around Ivrea where you can watch the battle behind some large safety nets that have been set up. This allows you to be close to the action, but safe from harm.
Another option is that spectators can wear a red cap called the Beretto Frigo which translates as don’t throw. It means that no one is allowed to throw an orange at you, but if you’re on the battlefield it doesn’t rule out a few oranges coming your way from the friendly fire.
The End of War and Town Funeral
After the three days of carnage and just a sea of oranges covering the whole town, the battle of the oranges is declared over by one of the Teams Generals. The fighting finishes and what follows is a massive mock funeral for those ‘lost’ during the battle.
While Ivrea Carnival looks like utter chaos, there are rules to the Battle of Oranges. Judges will observe the contest and select a winning team based on its attitude during the fight, its sense of fair play, and its decorating efforts.
The prize for winning the Battle of the Oranges is Pride! Italian Pride!
Where to stay?
Check out some accomodation options here.
For more information about tours, things to do, sightseeing tours, day trips and more click here.