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Everything you need to know about Calcio Storico, Italy’s most violent tradition

On June 24th each year, Florence's main square turns into an arena for a sport that's a brutal combination of rugby, football, and wrestling. The Local explores the history of this unique tradition.

Everything you need to know about Calcio Storico, Italy's most violent tradition
A game of Calcio Storico in Florence. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Calcio Storico (Historical football) is a game thought up by 16th-century Florentines and as the name suggests, it's an early – and very violent – form of football. It was also known as giuoco del calcio fiorentino (Florentine kicking game) and was very popular several centuries ago.

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These days, your only chance to watch a match is in June, when four local teams battle it out in Florence to be crowned the champions. The whole city turns out to enjoy the spectacle.


Spectators gathered in Piazza Sante Croce for the game. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

How do you play?

The game is played on a rectangular field with a length roughly twice as long as the width, and covered with sand. It's divided down the middle into two matching squares, with goal nets at each end.

Two teams of 27 players take part in the matches which last for 50 minutes. No substitutions are allowed, even if there are injuries – which there often are. The ball is thrown into the centre of the pitch, and the teams descend on it in an effort to gain possession and kick it over a fence at the opposing team's end of the field.

Players can use hands and feet and tactics such as tripping and tackling are also admissible, meaning things get pretty violent – though there is a long list of rules aimed at keeping injuries to a minimum, updated from the original version written by a Renaisance count. For example, while many fighting techniques (including martial arts) are allowed, it's not OK for more than one player to attack a single opponent at once.

READ ALSO: Five crazy Italian festivals that no-one should miss

Is it dangerous?

Yes. While there have been no deaths during the game in modern times, there have been numerous cases of players hospitalized, sometimes for months.

City authorities in 2007 banned the match for a year after a brawl which saw around 50 players (that's almost all of them) taken to court. After that, new rules banned convicted criminals from taking part.

Who takes part?

Four teams take part in the Florentine Calcio Storico, each representing a different district of the city: Santa Croce (blue), Santa Maria Novella (red), Santo Spirito (white), and San Giovanni (green). Semi-finals take place early in June, with the pairings decided by drawing coloured balls on Easter Sunday, and the finals are held on June 24th, the feast day of Florence's patron saint, John the Baptist.

In 2014, the rules regarding participation in the tournament were changed, so only people born in Florence or who have lived in the area for at least ten years can take part. Those rule changes also aimed to cut down on violence, for example banning head-to-head clashes.


Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Are there prizes?

Of course! The winning team used to take home a butchered calf, but now they get a free ready-cooked dinner at a restaurant. There's no official prize-giving or medal ceremony – the players play for glory.

So … why do we celebrate it?

At one time, the game was practiced regularly, and today's match is in part a reenactment of a game played while Florence was under imperial siege. It's held on the city's patron saint's feast day as a celebration of Florentine pride by remembering the defiance of that match.

However, after the 17th-century, it fell out of favour and the tradition seems to have been forgotten for a couple of hundred years. Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini revived the game in the 1930s, promoting it as part of his regime's focus on glorifying Italy's past, and amateur games were held up and down the country.

But now, the only time you'll be able to watch it is in June in Florence.


Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Is there anything else going on?

Yes. Calcio Storico is not just a sporting event but a celebration of Florence, and the day begins with a medieval pageant. Marching bands and costumed people, including Calcio Storico players from each of the four teams, make their way through the city's streets on the way to Piazza Santa Croce.

The final takes place in the late afternoon at around 5pm, so afterwards you can expect a lively atmosphere in Florentine bars and pubs. St John's Day is rounded off with a fireworks display over the River Arno.


Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP
 

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SPORT

PHOTOS: Italy’s most memorable medals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

The Tokyo Olympics were Italy's best Games yet, with Italian athletes taking home more medals than ever before. Here are the highlights.

PHOTOS: Italy’s most memorable medals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
Italy's Lamont Marcell Jacobs and Gianmarco Tamberi celebrate after winning golds in the 100m sprint and high jump. Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP

With ten golds, ten silvers and 20 bronzes, the Azzurri representing Italy in Tokyo were tenth on the medal table overall and top in Italian sporting history.

Previously the most medals Italy had ever won at a single Olympics was 36, which the country hadn’t equalled since the Rome Games in 1960.

READ ALSO: ‘Do Italy just win everything now?’: Celebrations after Italian athletes take Olympic gold

As well as a ceremony at the presidential palace in September, Italy’s Olympic champions will be welcomed back with prize money from the Italian National Olympic Committee: gold medalists are awarded €180,000 each, while silver medallists get €90,000 and bronze medallists get €60,000.

And then there’s the glory: after an exceptionally successful summer of Italian sport and music, Italy’s Olympic team dubbed their athletes “stupor mundi” – Latin for ‘the wonder of the world’. 

Italy’s gold medals at the 2020 Olympics

  • Men’s high jump: Gianmarco Tamberi

Italian high jumper Gianmarco Tamberi couldn’t have been happier to share the gold with his fellow competitor Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar, in what was hailed as one of the most touching moments of the Games. 

Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP
  • Men’s 100m: Lamont Marcell Jacobs

Relatively unknown long jumper-turned-sprinter Lamont Marcell Jacobs was in the form of his life when he outran the favourites and hurtled to first place in the biggest race in men’s athletics. He’s the first Italian ever to qualify for the Olympic final of the event, let alone win it.

Photo by Jewel SAMAD / AFP
  • Men’s 4 x 100m relay 

Lorenzo Patta, Lamont Marcell Jacobs, Eseosa Desalu and Filippo Tortu pulled off an astonishing victory by the smallest of margins, with Tortu flinging himself over the finish line to snatch gold from the favourites, Great Britain, by just a hundredth of a second. It was another historic first for Italy: the country has never before won the event, and the last time an Italian team got onto the podium was at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin (silver). 

Photo by Jewel SAMAD / AFP
  • Men’s 20km race walk: Massimo Stano
  • Women’s 20km race walk: Antonella Palmisano

Antonella Palmisano cemented Italy’s domination of the walking competition when she followed up her teammate Massimo Stano’s gold with her own victory a day later. She actually performed slightly faster at the Rio Olympics in 2016, but that time only earned her fourth last time round.

Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP
  • Track cycling, men’s team pursuit

Italy’s four-man team set a new track cycling world record by completing 16 laps (4km) in just 3:42.032. While Great Britain had long dominated the event and Denmark were reigning World Champions, no Italian team had won it since the Rome Olympics of 1960.

Photo by Greg Baker / AFP
  • Karate, men’s kumite -75kg: Luigi Busa
  • Rowing, lightweight women’s double sculls 
Valentina Rodini (L) and Federica Cesarini (R) celebrate their win in the lightweight women’s double sculls final. Photo by Luis ACOSTA / AFP
  • Sailing, mixed multihull – Nacra 17 foiling
  • Taekwondo, Men’s -58kg: Vito Dell’Aquila

Vito Dell’Aquila won Italy its first gold of the Games, at the age of just 20. It was his first Olympics but at this rate, it won’t be his last.

Photo by Javier SORIANO / AFP

Italy’s silver medals at the 2020 Olympics

  • Artistic gymnastics, women’s floor exercise: Vanessa Ferrari

Arguably Italy’s greatest competing gymnast, 30-year-old Vanessa Ferrari proved the value of experience when she became the first Italian to win an individual Olympic medal for women’s artistic gymnastics.

Photo by Loic VENANCE / AFP
  • Men’s individual archery: Mauro Nespoli
  • Men’s kayak single 200m: Manfredi Rizza
  • Fencing, men’s foil individual: Daniele Garrozo
  • Fencing, men’s sabre individual: Luigi Samele
  • Fencing, men’s sabre team

Fencing has long been one of Italy’s strongest sports, and these Games were no exception. Altogether Italian fencers took three silvers and two bronzes in both team and individual events. 

Italy’s Luca Curatoli (L) competes against South Korea’s Gu Bongil in the men’s sabre team gold medal bout. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
  • Women’s skeet shooting: Diana Bacosi
  • Swimming, men’s 4 x 100m freestyle relay
  • Swimming, men’s 800m freestyle: Gregorio Paltrinieri 
  • Weightlifting, women’s 64kg: Giorgia Bordignon
    Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

    Italy’s bronze medals at the 2020 Olympics

    • Women’s individual archery: Lucilla Boari
    • Women’s featherweight boxing: Irma Testa

    Irma “Butterfly” Testa made history as the first Italian woman to win an Olympic medal for boxing, a victory she dedicated to all of Italy’s female boxers.

    Photo by Luis ROBAYO / POOL / AFP
    • Women’s cycling road race: Elisa Longo Borghini 
    • Track cycling, men’s omnium: Elia Viviani 
    • Men’s 10km marathon swimming: Gregorio Paltrinieri 

    Gregorio Paltrinieri is one of the best long-distance swimmers there is, holding the men’s world record for the 1500m freestyle. He comes home from Tokyo with two medals: silver in the 800m freestyle, and bronze in the gruelling 10km swim.

    Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP
    • Swimming, men’s 100m breaststroke: Nicolo Martinenghi
    • Swimming, men’s 100m butterfly: Federico Burdisso
    • Swimming, men’s 4 x 100m medley relay
    • Swimming, women’s 800m freestyle: Simona Quadarella 
    • Judo, women’s -52kg: Odette Giuffrida
    Photo by Franck FIFE / AFP
    • Judo, women’s -63kg: Maria Centracchio
    • Fencing, women’s épée team
    • Fencing, women’s foil team 
    • Karate, women’s kata: Viviana Bottaro

    Accomplished karateka Viviana Bottaro won Italy its first Olympic medal in karate, which made its debut at the Tokyo Games. 

    Photo by Alexander NEMENOV / AFP
    • Rowing, lightweight men’s double sculls
    • Rowing, men’s four
    • Rhythmic gymnastics, group all-around

    Nicknamed le Farfalle (‘the Butterflies’), Italy’s five-woman rhythmic gymnastic team provided one of Italy’s last medal-winning performances on the final day of the Games, and one of the most spectacular.

    Photo by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP
    • Weightlifting, men’s 67kg: Mirko Zanni 
    • Weightlifting, men’s 81kg: Antonino Pizzolato
    • Wrestling, men’s freestyle 97kg: Abraham de Jesus Conyedo Ruano 
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