The Battle of the Oranges
The Carnival of Ivrea
Ivrea’s historic carnevale (carnival) is known to its fans with a specific name: the Battle of the Oranges.
This unique event is a yearly commemoration of what is said to have been the town’s battle and resistance against a tyrant.
The tyrant was reported to have attempted to rape a young peasant woman, known as the miller’s daughter or la mugnaia, on the night of her wedding by claiming that it was his noble right. Fortunately, the tyrant’s deed was thwarted when the people of Ivrea stormed and burned the palace, right after his would-be victim fought back and beheaded her attacker.
Since then, the citizens of Ivrea have commemorated their liberation with the Battle of the Oranges, where teams of Aranceri (‘orangers’) on foot throw oranges which represent ancient weapons and stones against Aranceri riding in carts representing the tyrant’s ranks.
Today, the famous Battle of the Oranges involves thousands of people from the town, divided into nine combat teams, who throw oranges at each other, often with considerable violence, during the traditional carnival days: Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
The carnival takes place in February and ends on the night of Shrove Tuesday with a solemn funeral.
As tradition dictates, at the end of the silent march that closes the carnival the “General” says goodbye to everyone with the classical phrase in dialect "arvedse a giobia a ‘n bot", which translates to “we’ll see each other on Thursday at one”, referring to the Thursday which will mark the start of next year’s celebration.
A curiosity: the Asso di Picche or the ace of spades, founded in 1947, is the oldest of the nine pedestrian teams of orange throwers that participate in the historic battle.
Every year, a young woman is chosen to represent Violetta, la mugnaia. The young woman chosen for this duty has the honour to represent the strength, not only of one young woman, but certainly as the symbol of Ivrea’s resistance to all tyrants.
Spectators and visitors to Ivrea may ask, “Why oranges?” especially since oranges are not a typical product grown in Northern Italy and the oranges, sometimes as many as 265,000 kilograms, must be imported for the celebration.
In fact, oranges were not the original weapon of choice: during the first carnevali, beans were thrown and later on, apples. Eventually, it would be oranges that came to represent the stones thrown at the king’s castle.
For anyone considering a visit to Ivrea to experience the festivities and the Battle of the Oranges, there are some things to be aware of since the battle can be overwhelming for the unprepared. First, there are a handful of routes that are allowed for spectators: one of them is to hide behind the nets that are draped around the buildings. It is one of the safest choices and is highly recommended for anyone planning to attend with young children. If you are an adventure seeker, you can stay on the battlefield for the entire battle.
Obviously, one should consider just how orange-soaked they want to become and a change of clothes is highly recommended. All spectators are encouraged to buy the traditional red cap, the Berretto Frigio, which identifies you as a revolutionary and may, in theory, protect you from having oranges thrown directly at you. Spectators wearing the caps are not allowed to throw any oranges, although, due to the liveliness of the festivities, spectators can usually get away with throwing an orange or two.
Some say that spectators need to stay clear of the armoured “palace guards”, but those with experience will tell you that it is really the aranceri who are trying to hit the guards that you should be wary of!
The Carnival of Ivrea and the rousing Battle of the Oranges are more than a simple re-enactment of history. The event is an, albeit messy, celebration of tradition and historic pride of a city and its citizens.Any suggestions?
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