Most Italians thrive on rivalries. It is one thing to be a supporter of your favorite team, but the real joy is when they can trounce a bitter rival. In the United States, we most commonly associate this with sports – Yankees vs. Red Sox; Giants vs. Eagles or Cowboys or Redskins… Most people have a team they love to hate. In Italy, it is taken to a different level, almost an art form. Where in America a simmering rivalry exists for years and on occasion lasts for decades, in Italy, rivalries are often measured in centuries.
Before the 19th century, Italy as a country didn’t exist. Instead, the peninsula was divided into several independent city-states and republics, each with its own distinct identity.
Though outsiders often paint Italy with broad, homogeneous strokes, these regional identities are still very much alive. In fact, Italians are so proud of their heritage that when asked where they’re from, many will respond with their hometown or region before even mentioning Italy. If everyone thinks their traditions are the best, then perhaps it is no surprise that some serious feuds have developed throughout the ‘bel paese.’
From sporting squabbles to disputes over a dessert, there are a number of rivalries that you need to know about. You never know when you might be asked to pick a side.
AS Roma vs SS Lazio
One of football’s fiercest rivalries was born in Rome in 1927 with the merger of three of the city’s teams to form AS Roma. SS Lazio, founded 27 years earlier in Rome’s Prati neighborhood, refused to join and the two sides have hated each other ever since.
Nowadays both teams believe they are the true representatives of the Eternal City. But it is perhaps AS Roma, who sport Rome’s traditional red and yellow and adopted the she-wolf as their emblem, who have been more effective at associating themselves with the capital’s mythology. It also helps that they constructed their first soccer grounds in the working-class neighborhood of Testaccio, in the heart of the city. Lazio fans, meanwhile, resided primarily in the suburbs and outskirts of the city and earned the nickname burini (hicks) from their rivals.
Twice a year, the two teams meet in the Derby della Capitale and their shared stadium becomes the scene of flares, banners, an intense level of noise and plenty of name calling.
Pisa vs Livorno
The two Tuscan cities of Pisa and Livorno might be neighbors but there is no love lost between them, thanks to a grudge that goes back to the time of the Medicis. With the backing of the Florentine dynasty, Livorno grew from a small fishing village to become an important strategic port city. This elevation of its status did little to endear the town to Pisa, a once-powerful maritime republic.
After being eclipsed by the ‘vulgar’ and ‘rude’ Livornesi down the road, Pisans came up with the saying:
“Il sogno di un pisano è di svegliarsi a mezzogiorno, guardare verso il mare e non vedere più Livorno.” (The dream of a Pisan is to wake up at midday, look towards the sea and not see Livorno anymore). Livorno, of course, has its own phrase for its snobbish neighbor, which translates as “Better a death in the house than a Pisan at the door.”
Siena vs Itself
When animosity with neighboring Florence was no longer enough for medieval Siena, it decided to fight with itself. The city was already divided into administrative and military districts known as contrade – so why not pit them against each other in the name of sport? Some of the first civic games were organized matches between the city’s different quarters, but in the 1600s, a dramatic horse race was held in Piazza del Campo and the now famous Il Palio officially began.
The race, which has changed little since its inception, typically lasts just 90 seconds and involves jockeys dressed in traditional attire riding bareback three times around the piazza. Accusations of corruption and bribery are flung between sides and local residents have even been known to guard their jockey and horse for fear of sabotage from a rival contrada.
Ferrari vs Lamborghini
A feud between Ferrari and Lamborghini, both manufacturers of Italian supercars and both located in Emilia-Romagna, may now seem like it was both destined and inevitable; however, this rivalry almost never happened. In fact, Lamborghini sports cars might not have even existed if Enzo Ferrari had been a bit more civil and understanding to his customer, Ferruccio Lamborghini.
Lamborghini was born into a farming family and after working as a mechanic during World War II, he set up a tractor company. His business prospered and in time he purchased a Ferrari. He had a few complaints about the clutch and took his observations directly to the Ferrari boss.
Enzo didn’t appreciate the feedback and is quoted as saying: “You know how to drive a tractor, but you will never learn to drive a Ferrari.” It was just the push Ferruccio needed to launch his own line of luxury sports cars.
Friuli-Venezia Giulia vs Veneto
Italians are very passionate about food and perhaps the next best thing to consuming it is arguing about it. This inevitably became the case when two regions both claim to be the birthplace of one of Italy’s most famous desserts.
Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia lie side by side in the north of Italy, but are separated by a dispute over the origins of tiramisu. It has long been considered that the layered dessert was created in the late 1960s at Alle Beccherie, a restaurant in Treviso, Veneto, by pastry chef Roberto Linguanotto. In recent years, however, Friulians have hit back with their version of dessert’s origin, claiming that a hotel in Udine was also serving tiramisu during that same period.
The Friulians’ claim to the title was bolstered further when, in 2016, two food writers discovered tiramisu recipes from the region dating back to the 1950s. In 2017, the dessert was officially added to a list of traditional dishes of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, but the two regions still couldn’t resolve their differences. Venetians responded with calls for the decree to be suspended, claiming officials must have been given inaccurate information and so the love/hate relationship continues.