Battle of Oranges 2018, Carnevale di Ivrea, Piedmont
Each year the city of Ivrea puts on the biggest orange “festival” in the world. Over the course of three days over 100,000 visitors witness people of all ages throw 700 tonnes of oranges at each other. I have never seen so many oranges in my life. In total there are 7000 participants or aranceri.
Some accounts date the origins of this tradition to the 19th century when the ruling class decided to help the lower class by handing beans out to them. The hoards of starving people threw the beans back at them in disgust. Other accounts date it back to the 12th and 13th century when a conflict broke out between the poor against the rich and concluded with their palace being burnt to the ground. In any case it is a tradition which demonstrates the power of the populace when united against tyrants and injustice.
We arrived early in the morning to find huge crowds massing in the city. Just outside of the train station we came across vendors selling red hats. They reminded the excited people passing by that if you didn’t have red on you are fair game, in other words you might become a target for lots of oranges. We had luckily prepared ahead of time by empting out our wardrobes in search of red articles of clothing. At the entrance we dressed in our red shirts, coats, and fashioned hats around our heads. We meandered around the city wondering where the best place to see the battled was. We came to an intersection and a medieval bridge where spectators and a group of hundreds people all wearing strange green clothing had congregated. We quickly discovered they were aranceri and represented “I Tuchini del Borghetto”, one of nine neighbourhoods in Ivrea. Each Borghetto has a unique crest, costumes, songs, and traditions. They compete against the “mounted” aranceri, a carriage pulled by two horses and filled with 10 aranceri with masks on their heads (looked like hockey equipment to me) and their oranges. It was their job to pass through the mob of people in each neighborhood firing off their oranges, and obviously each neighborhood did their best to hinder their progress through their territory with… you guessed it lots and lots of oranges. Most participants were just having lots of fun, but there were also some that took it a little too far. I witnessed a few aranceri get right up close to the carriages and have a type of duel with the mounted aranceri a meter above them. They exchanged oranges blow for blow, throw for throw, for 10 minutes. Then when they were both exhausted and maybe out of oranges they shook hands and went on their way.
After thousands of oranges were thrown in just a few minutes we were so impressed with the show. It wasn’t over yet though, on the contrary it was just beginning. Shortly after the next armed carriage passed by us and onto the bridge and the carnage began all over again. The oranges flew into the river, the crowd, and streets. One came rolling up right up to my foot. Well why not give it a try, I thought to myself, how many opportunities will I have to throw oranges at people without any consequences”. And so I did… and what fun, who would of thought! I even hit a few of the invading aranceri.
Tractors equipped with plows intermediately passed by to clear the streets for the crowds, aranceri, the parade, and horses. Someone mentioned if the Italians from Ivrea went to Canada they would think it was odd that we use the same type of plows to move snow, “What is all this white stuff and where is your orange jam?” they might ask. Following the plows was a parade of musicians, people in napoleon era military uniforms, and last but not least the millers daughter. Legend says that in medieval times the sovereign of Ivera tried to rape the miller’s daughter but instead lost his head by the hand of… you guessed it the miller’s daughter herself. In the modern day parade a young women is picked to show off her sword and throw flowers and candies to the crowds, of which the majority ends up in the orange jam.
By the end of the day there was a build up of 15cm of orange jam on the roads. It was a brownish/orange hue, and consisted of crushed oranges, horse manure, candies, flowers, and anything else you can think of. Yep, I know what you are thinking…your right, it smelled like rotten oranges and horse shit.
The whole show was unbelievable between the grandmother who got hit by a stray orange, us losing our friend in the swarming crowd, people slipping and falling into orange sludge, aranceri with purple welts all over their faces, and our friend getting slimed because he took off his hat (don’t take off your red hat!). If you happen to be in Piedmont, Italy in February this is an event that you can’t miss. What a day!