The Battle of the Oranges: inside Italy’s craziest festival | Ivrea’s Historical Carnival

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Dating back to 1808, the Ivrea Carnival is one of the oldest festivals in Italy. Carnival is celebrated all over the world, especially in countries with a large Catholic community.

From Rio de Janeiro to Rome, people take to the streets to eat, drink, and celebrate the season. After days of festivals and parades, Carnival culminates in one last night of partying called Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras.

But in Ivrea, Carnival includes a unique tradition: the Battle of the Oranges.

Carnevale di Ivrea

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Piazza degli Scacchi, Carnevale di Ivrea

History of the Battle of the Oranges

paragraph curated by @the.traveling.historian

For the three days leading up to Fat Tuesday, the men, women, and children participate in the largest organized food fight in Italy – the Battle of the Oranges.

The origins of the fight are a little murky but seem to date back to a medieval revolt. In the 1100s, Ivrea was ruled by an evil tyrannical duke.

The legend says that this duke tried to attack a young miller’s daughter on her wedding night. Instead, she decapitated him and started a revolution. Following her lead, the townspeople of Ivrea stormed the palace and burned it to the ground.

Today, nearly a millennia later, the people of Ivrea commemorate their revolution. Although this time they are armed with oranges and padding, instead of swords and torches. Every festival, a local woman is elected to represent the brave miller’s daughter and lead the food fighting festivities.

Battle of the Oranges, Borghetto, Carnevale di Ivrea

What is the Battle of the Oranges?

The Battle of the Oranges marks the end of the Ivrea’s Carnival, every year since 1947. It is fought for three days, from Sunday to Shrive Tuesday.

It is played between the nine teams of Aranceri (orange-throwers) on foot, who represent the people who revolted, and the Aranceri on horse-drawn carriages, who play the role of the feudal armies.

The battle is a mix of passion and solidarity. It is very common to see rivals shake hands, showing respect to one another, recognizing each other’s skills and courage.

Battle of the Oranges

The battle is based on unwritten rules followed by all the throwers:

The nine teams have a designated area for their throwers (wearing tunics and trousers in their team’s colours).
The 51 orange-throwing carriages are divided into 35 pairs and 16 quadrilles, and they all gather at 1 pm before the start of the Battle. The carts alternate, heading into the town squares for a few minutes, giving life to battles against the teams on foot.

Try to imagine over 7000 people flocking to the streets of a quiet small town to take part in this unique celebration, throwing oranges at each other: this is the Battle of the Oranges.

Over 600 tonnes of oranges are thrown during the festival, which corresponds to over 4.2 million oranges. It is important to note that these oranges aren’t suitable for commercial purposes. More about this topic on “Ethics & Sustainability”.

Horses are considered to be the main stars of the event, they have always been taken care of with great love and respect.

The historical and cultural aspects of the Battle make it one of the most important festivals today, both on national and an international level. Everyone can take part in the Battle by joining either one of the nine teams on foot or one of the squad.

Battle of the Oranges, Ivrea, Tuchini del Borghetto

Where is it?

The Battle of the Oranges takes place in Ivrea, a quiet town of about 23.000 people near the city of Turin, in the Piedmont region, northern Italy.

Since 2018, “Ivrea, industrial city of the 20th century” has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site brings together 27 buildings and architectural complexes.

The battle of the oranges happens in many squares and streets of the city centre. Below you can find a map of the city highlighting the route of the orange-throwing carriages and the different squares where the battle takes place.

Ivrea, City Map

Each team fights in a specific location: “Asso di Picche“, born in 1947, throws in Piazza di Città (11), and they share the “Piazza” (the square) with “la Morte” (1954).

In Piazza Ottinetti (10) we will find the “Scacchi” (1964) and “Scorpioni d’Arduino” (1966), while “I Tuchini del Borghetto” (1964) throw from the right side of the river Dora Baltea (15).

In Piazza del Rondolino (8) we will find “Pantera Nera” (1966), the “Diavoli” (1973) and the “Mercenari” (1974). Lastly, the “Credendari” (1985) throw in piazza Freguglia (9).

Battle of the Oranges, Borghetto

Rione Borghetto (15)

When is it?

The Battle of the Oranges takes place every year, from the Sunday of Carnival to Fat Tuesday.

The 2020 edition took place from February 23rd to February 25th. The 2021 edition will take place from February 14th to February 16th.

Save the date!

Ivrea, Battle of the Oranges

Where to sleep in Ivrea

Here are some of the accommodations located in the city centre of Ivrea: please note that the following links are affiliate links and we earn a small commission out of referenced reservations, at no extra cost for you.

The prices shown are for 2 people, per night.

Booking.com
Battle of the Oranges, Ivrea, Italy

Tickets, prices and reservations

Spectators:

The entrance fee for spectators is €10 ($11 USD) on Sunday (free for children up to 12yo), and it is free for everyone on Monday and Tuesday.

Orange-throwers:

Everyone can apply to become an orange-thrower. Reservations for people that aren’t native of Ivrea and that have not attended the festival in the previous year open on the 10th of January.

The participation fee is €90 and includes food & wine on the 3 days of the festival, as well as the oranges.
Here are the websites of the 9 teams:

Battle of the Oranges, Tuchini del Borghetto

The Battle of the Oranges – our best tips

  • If you go as a spectator, you MUST wear a “berretto frigio”, or Phrygian Hat. The Phrygian Hat is a red soft conical cap that is not only an ornamental symbol of the carnival, but also a way to avoid being chosen as a target during the traditional orange battle – as dictated by tradition and by the General’s Orders. It is also a way to show one’s full participation in the event. You can buy one directly at the event for about €5.
  • Always keep a safe distance from the horses: never stand behind, around or near the horses even if they are standing still. Obviously, do NOT throw oranges at the horses.
  • Do not pick oranges from the boxes without the permission of the team. Outsiders are not allowed to throw, but you can make your way around it if you are nice with the members of the team.
  • Do not throw oranges from distance. Oranges are supposed to be thrown from nearby the wagons only. This is to avoid oranges hitting spectators and other people who are not directly involved in the fight on the other side of the square.
  • Do NOT wear glasses in the areas directly involved in the Orange Battle. Even though oranges aren’t supposed to be thrown from distance, there is a chance an orange could hit you even though you are far from the fight.
  • Be careful when you stand close behind the protection nets. Nets are designed to avoid that oranges hit the buildings and people behind them, but they will not protect you if you stand very close to them.
  • DO NOT enter the areas involved in the Orange Battle with pushchairs and prams.
Battle of the Oranges, Borghetto

Things to keep in mind

Wear clothes appropriate for the festival. The layer of smashed oranges on the ground can be as deep as 40 cm in some parts of the street. Dress accordingly: wear boots and trousers you don’t mind getting dirty.

Also, bring spare clothes for when the festival is over.

Ethics and sustainability

While this food fight may seem like a massive waste at first glance, there is a lot going on the behind the scenes.

The Oranges

First of all, it is important to mention that the oranges used in the festival are fruits that would be destinated for pulping otherwise. These oranges, in fact, could never be commercialised and farmers would need to dispose of them.

Instead, farmers are getting paid for their products and the oranges are even used for further processing after the battle.

Battle of the Oranges

Compost & energy

After each day of battle, the smashed oranges are collected and stored in a specific tank.

Subsequently, the citrus fruits to be disposed of are transported to a plant which takes care of their disposal by transforming them into compost and energy. For 2016, the plant has transformed over 680 tons of oranges into compost.

The support against the mafias

The fruits come mostly from Calabrian and Sicilian companies operating in the Libera circuit.

In other words, the festival supports companies that are active to raise awareness and contrast the phenomenon of the mafias in regions where this situation still represents a problem.


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