The Carnevale – Battle of Oranges
In the tiny town of Ivrea, in the Piedmont region of Italy, outside of Turin, there is a medieval tradition that erupts each year during Carnevale – The Battle of Oranges.
According to legend, during the 12th century, the feudalist lord of the land, an oppressive tyrant, insisted on droit du seigneur – the right to engage with a woman before her marriage. Young Violetta, daughter of the miller, was brought to the palazzo on the eve of her wedding. However, the lord didn’t count on her defiance. What follows in legend is a bit unclear. There are two versions of her actions, but it is acknowledged that the young maiden did not succumb to the nobleman’s desires. In one version of the tale, she cut off his head. In the other version, her knife was used to cut off something else (which may be where the oranges come into play in today’s battle). Following her actions, the town’s people stormed and burned the palace. Commemorating the event, each year a young girl is chosen to play the part of Violetta, the defiant young woman.
The rebellion of centuries before took on additional significance after the Napoleonic invasion. Once again, the town overthrew a tyrannical lord and the 12th century event was blended with the more recent disposal of Raineri di Biandrate, the overthrown French lord. Established in 1808, the Carnevale of Ivrea is one of the oldest and most peculiar festivals in the world. Members of the court are represented on floats that are drawn by horse through the streets. The core celebration, the battle itself, involves thousands of townspeople, divided into nine combat teams who throw oranges at each other – with considerable force – during the traditional carnival days. The festival is extremely popular among both tourists and the local citizens. Each year, more than 20,000 people engage as combatants, while tens of thousands watch the participants pelting one another with the Sicilian citrus fruits.
The colorful annual festival is held in Ivrea every Sunday, Monday and Tuesday during Carnevale and is unquestionably the largest food fight in Italy. It is interesting that oranges are used in the battle. The fruit is not grown in the Piedmont region. Each year roughly 30 tons of oranges are shipped from Sicily to Ivrea. The event concludes on the night of Shove Tuesday with a solemn funeral. Traditionally, at the end of the silent march that closes the Carnevale, the “General” of the event says goodbye to everyone with the classical phrase “arvedse a giobia a ‘n bot,” which translates as “we’ll see each other on Thursday at one,” referring to the Thursday that Carnevale will start the next year.