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Battle of the Oranges, 2020, Ivrea, Italy
February 23 - February 25
Referred to as the biggest food fight in Europe, the Battle of the Oranges takes over the town of Ivrea on the three days preceding Lent, from the Sunday to Shrove Tuesday.
An estimated 9,000 tonnes of oranges are cast in a pitched battle between the townsfolk represented by nine teams of orange throwers and tyrannical orange-yielding soldiers in their carts. However, do not expect a backpacker throw-fest as in La Tomatina in Spain. The Battle of the Oranges is highly regulated and steeped in tradition, as part of the longer Historical Carnival of Ivrea.
The Miller’s Daughter
Legend has it that Violetta, a beautiful miller’s daughter (Vezzosa Mugnaia) refused to comply with the local baron’s droit du seigneur, by which he was allowed to sleep with her on her wedding night. Instead the young maid took matters into her own hands and struck off the head of the nobleman – allegedly the Marquis of Montferrato – with one sweep of her sword.
Violetta’s actions led to a successful people’s revolt against the baron, who had also starved the townsfolk, which is now re-enacted each year in the Battle of the Oranges. The Miller’s daughter and a Napoleonic General are key figures in the annual festival.
By attacking the soldiers positioned by carts around the village, the fearless orange-throwers are deemed to be taking on all forms of tyranny. At the end of the three days fighting, prizes are given to those who have shone in terms of loyalty, technique and ardour.
Originally, it was not oranges but beans and legumes that were thrown – as these were distributed to the poor by the Ivrean brotherhoods; one of the main elements of the festival is the series of fagiolate rionali, or bean feasts. However, by the 19th century the battle had taken on a more chivalric tone with oranges, which were deemed to be an exotic fruit, cast possibly by young maidens to courtiers from their balconies.
By 1854, the orange tokens had taken on a more aggressive tone, with the manifesto of that year prohibiting the throwing of oranges in a vehement manner. The prohibition went unheeded, and in 1947, the first official Battle of the Oranges was waged with the formation of the Asso di Picche, which is still one of the now nine teams of orange throwers.
Historical Carnival of Ivrea
Although the Historical Carnival of Ivrea commences in early January with the opening parade with pipes and drums (pifferi e tambura) and the Song of the Carnival, the festival’s anthem, it is not until Fat Thursday (the last before Ash Wednesday) that the events begin to hot up. It is this day that the General dons his conical red Phrygian hat, which is a symbol of revolution, to mark the beginning of the festivities, and many a bean is consumed.
Two days later the Miller’s Daughter, whose identity is shrouded in secrecy, is officially presented at the Town Hall in Piazza di Citta at 9pm, so that the battle can commence the following day. After three days of relentless fighting, much eating of beans, cod and polenta and excessive consumption of vin brulé, the local mulled wine, the carnage comes to a halt.
For another and more peaceful citrus fruit festival, join the Fête du Citron or Lemon Festival in Menton, France.
Violetta, brandishing her bloody sword, stands over a burning pole (scarlo) garnished with juniper and heather bushes; if it burns brightly the following year will be prosperous, but a slow burner portends no good. Then the festival concludes with the funeral of the Carnival amid much pomp and ceremony.
Participating in the Battle of the Oranges
Each year some 100,000 attend the Historical Carnival of Ivrea; the battle itself is free to watch. It’s recommended to stay away from the square courtyards if you want to stay clean and safe – people do get orange bruises each year.
However, if you want to venture into the fray and enter the square, wear a red hat, to signify you are a friend of the rebellious peasants, who should not, at least theoretically, cast any oranges at you. However, many spectator has been known to become a victim of friendly fire in the general mayhem. Apparently, you can even join a team, for a fee, supposed to be around $120.
Where is the Battle of the Oranges?
The battle is in Ivrea, Piedmont, Italy.
When is the Battle of the Oranges 2020?
This year’s battle will be from 23 to 25 February, with Fat Thursday occurring on 20 February.
Battle of the Oranges 2020 Programme
For a full programme of events click here.
Getting to Turin
The nearest airport to Ivrea is in Turin.
Accommodation in Ivrea
If you are looking for accommodation in Ivrea for the festival, fill in the form below.
Battle of the Oranges Photo Gallery
Further information on the Battle of the Oranges
Mark Bibby Jackson
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