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CULTURE

From football to tiramisu: A look at Italy’s deepest rivalries

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.

From football to tiramisu: A look at Italy's deepest rivalries
Rival jockeys jostle during Il Palio in Siena. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

Though outsiders often paint Italy with broad, homogeneous strokes, these regional identities are still very much alive today. 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 evening mentioning Italy.

If everyone thinks their traditions are the best, then perhaps it’s no surprise that some serious feuds have developed throughout the bel paese

From sporting squabbles to disputes over a dessert, here are the Italian rivalries you need to know about. After all, you never know when you might be asked to pick a side.

North vs South

Just like the UK, Italy has its own north-south divide, one that runs deep in the psyche of many Italians. Northerners, who consider themselves hardworking and industrious, enjoy life in the wealthiest regions of Italy, in developed, modern cities like Milan and Turin – you know, where stuff like public transport just works. Those in the south, according to northerners, are corrupt and perpetually unemployed. It’s no wonder the region has no money.

READ ALSO: What the election result told us about Italy's north-south divide


Italy's Northern League – one half of the current coalition government – began as a secession movement demanding separation from the south. Photo: Paco Serinelli/AFP

Ask a southerner, though, and they’ll tell you a story of how the rich north wants to keep government money for itself while the south struggles to fight against organized crime, a stagnant economy and a lack of opportunity for young people.

And where is the line drawn? Just like in the UK, it depends on who you ask. A Milanese will say Rome is in the south, whereas a Sicilian will claim it’s clearly in the north. (As a British Midlander I sympathise – no one ever wants the central regions on their team).

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 neighbourhood, refused to join and the two sides have hated each other ever since.

READ ALSO: Anti-Semitism scandal part of Lazio fans' dark past


Lazio in pale blue and white and Roma in red and gold. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Nowadays both teams believe they are the true representatives of the Eternal City but it’s perhaps AS Roma, who sport Rome’s traditional red and yellow and have adopted the she-wolf as their emblem, who have best ingrained themselves within the capital's mythology. It also can’t hurt that they built their first grounds in the working-class neighbourhood of Testaccio, in the heart of the city. Lazio fans, meanwhile, mainly resided in the suburbs and outskirts, earning them the moniker burini, or peasants, 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, sometimes violence and racism.

Pisa vs Livorno

The two Tuscan cities of Pisa and Livorno might be neighbours but there’s 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 a strategic port city, an upgrade that must have annoyed Pisa, a once-powerful maritime republic.


Rather rude graffiti about Pisa. Photo: flyk3r/Flickr

After being eclipsed by the ‘vulgar’ and ‘rude’ Livornesi down the road, Pisans came up with the saying: “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 neighbour: “Better a death in the house than a Pisan at the door”.

Siena vs itself

When animosity with neighbouring Florence was no longer enough for medieval Siena, it decided to hate on itself too. 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 basically organised punch-ups between warring gangs, but in the 1600s a dramatic horse race was held in Piazza del Campo and Il Palio officially began.

IN PICTURES: The Siena Palio, Italy's historic horse race

Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

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 – seems entirely inevitable, but this rivalry almost never happened. In fact, the legend goes, Lamborghini sports cars might not have even existed if Enzo Ferrari had been able to stomach some constructive criticism.


Enzo Ferrari allegedly didn't take criticism well. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP

Ferruccio Lamborghini was born into a farming family but his main passion was always for engines so, after working as a mechanic during World War II, he set up a tractor company. With the business doing well, he treated himself to a Ferrari. He had a few complaints about its handling though, and took his observations directly to the Ferrari boss.

Enzo didn’t appreciate the farm boy’s 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 most passionate about food – eating it, talking about it, and, in particular, arguing about it. So when two regions both claim to be the birthplace of Italy’s most famous dessert that just won’t do.

READ ALSO: Tiramisu status uplifting for Friuli but a put-down for Veneto


A competitor at the Tiramisu World Cup in Treviso, Veneto. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

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’s long been considered by many 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 events. They say 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.

Originally from the UK, Emma Law is a freelance writer and marketing consultant based in Rome. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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LA BELLA VITA

La Bella Vita: Pasta, coffee, and the signs you’re becoming Italian

From how your eating habits become more Italian (without you even realising it) to the best ways to prepare and drink coffee, our new weekly newsletter La Bella Vita offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like an Italian.

La Bella Vita: Pasta, coffee, and the signs you're becoming Italian

La Bella Vita is our regular look at the real culture of Italy – from language to cuisine, manners to art. This new newsletter will be published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to newsletter preferences in ‘My Account’ or follow the instructions in the newsletter box below.

The longer you spend in Italy, the more you might find yourself adapting to Italian culture in ways you didn’t expect. For Brits like me, that might mean swapping your tea with milk for black espresso. For Americans it could be that your tastebuds have slowly become less accustomed to spicy foods (good tacos are, sadly, hard to find in Italy). And you’ve heard all about the tomatoes, but are you eating more lentils yet?

Once you find yourself eating pasta on an almost daily basis and reacting to the idea of fast food with a heartfelt ‘che schifo!’ you’ll know there’s really no going back. These are just some of the eating and drinking habits you might see change over time:

17 ways your eating and drinking habits change when you live in Italy

With all that pasta in mind, if you want to make sure your favourite recipe is executed in truly flawless Italian style we’ve got some expert advice on nailing the technique for saucing all of your pasta dishes correctly every time – and there’s more to it than you might expect.

Ask an Italian: How do you sauce pasta properly?

And then there’s the coffee. Whether you prefer yours from an espresso machine or the iconic stovetop moka coffee pot – personally I find it hard to pick a favourite – everyone who’s spent even a short time in Italy knows there’s an art to preparing and drinking coffee all’italiana

This rich tradition comes with a set of rules and norms that can be hard to navigate if you weren’t born in the country, so here’s our complete guide to where, when and how to drink coffee like a true Italian.

Where, when and how to drink coffee like an Italian

A shot of dark, velvety coffee is more than just a quick caffeine hit: Italy’s espresso is a prized social and cultural ritual the country considers a part of its national heritage. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

The weather has taken a turn for the worse this week and many parts of northern Italy are experiencing freezing temperatures and snow. It sounds obvious now, but before I moved to Italy I didn’t realise just how bitterly cold it gets, and my first winter in Tuscany was a bit of a shock. Luckily, Italians from around the peninsula share a love of talking – or complaining – about cold and wet weather so there were plenty of people ready to commiserate.

Here are ten Italian phrases you can throw into your weather-related conversations during these chilly days:

Ten phrases to talk about cold and wet weather in Italian

And have you noticed how some Italian translations of English-language film titles bear very little resemblance to the original? I first realised this when an Italian friend told me how they always watched something called ‘Mamma ho perso l’aereo’ at Christmas, and described the plot, which sounded identical to that of Home Alone…

From the very literal to the improbable, here’s a non-exhaustive list of our favourite Italian movie title translations.

Puns and plot spoilers: How English movie titles are translated into Italian

Remember if you’d like to have this weekly newsletter sent straight to your inbox you can sign up for it via Newsletter preferences in “My Account”.

Is there an aspect of the Italian way of life you’d like to see us write more about on The Local? Please email me at [email protected]

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