As we suspected, Italy has proven to be the source for more adventures than we could have ever imagined. Perhaps the most exciting time of year in Italy was Carnivale, the final days before Lent begins. Learning how the different regions and communities celebrated, proved to be some of the most fun experiences. Nothing could have prepared us for what is known to those from Ivrea, Italy as the Battaglia delle Arance (Battle of the Oranges).
Carnevale Di Ivrea pays homage to an ancient uprising between the town’s villagers and its tyrant leader and his guards. As the story goes, back in the 1800s, a civil war broke out between the townsfolk of Ivrea and the Royal Napoleanic Troops, led by the hated tyrant Raineri di Biandrate.
It’s said that di Biandrate tried to rape the daughter of a local miller on the eve of her wedding. Things got ugly and the daughter ended up decapitating the tyrant. His troops then tried to take the town by force as an act of retaliation, and the people revolted using stones and other crude weapons and eventually drove the soldiers out.
Today, participants trade slings and arrows for oranges. There are nine teams, one group who dresses up in armor to represent the old guards, and even a young woman selected to represent Violetta, the mugnaia,(the miller’s daughter) who sparked the whole revolution.
Everything wraps up with a grim funeral procession to “mourn” those lost in battle, and, well, a lot of orange-sized bruises.
So, upon arrival to the festivities, what does one see? The first thing you are bound to notice is the sea of red. Even as we left our car, those who are walking towards the town are all donning an unmistakable red cap. Violetta and the crowd wear long, bright red, Phrygian hats symbolizing freedom. They come from far away. They’re called berretti di Frigia or berretti frigi, from the ancient area of Phrygia, in what is now Turkish Anatolia. They used to be worn by the worshippers of the sun. They were then worn, in ancient Rome, by emancipated slaves and finally became one of the symbols of the French Revolution: the red bonnet meant Liberté. When you walk around with a red hat in Ivrea, people say you’re wearing the berretto frigio and therefore you must be free to pass unharmed. The red hat means you won’t be throwing oranges and therefore, no one will throw oranges at you. If you’re near the battle areas (even if you’re behind the protective nets) you’ll still get orange shrapnel, but no direct hits. So to Ben’s disappointment, seeking out one of the “red hat selling kiosks”, became our first mission. Despite the majority of caps available being the traditional style, Ben was delighted to find he could maintain his own fashion statement.
As we continued to walk towards the town, the next thing we noticed were oranges. Oranges…oranges…and more oranges! Dried oranges, drinks made of oranges, desserts made from oranges and then row after row, stacks of crate after crate of blood red oranges! We were in the right place, that’s for certain. There were approximately 11 different stations and each was bearing the banner of two of the dueling teams. There was still time before the slaughter was to begin and so we proceeded to the town center to witness the serving of the “Fagioli grassi di Ivrea”-bowls of beans that are handed out to all those who come to witness the festivities!
The orange part of the Ivrea carnival is relatively new – prior to the nineteenth century beans were used. These beans were given to Piedmont and Ivrean peasants by the local lords and as a sign of disrespect the peasants used to throw them back.
The introduction of oranges to the whole thing has definitely added a whole new dimension. The beans are still about and are remembered in the tradition of handing out free bean dishes on the day to all and sundry. This dish, an old Piedmont peasant staple, known as fagioli grassi, is delicious.
It is made by the townsfolk in vast quantities and in huge cauldrons from Saturday night. It consists of a tasty mix of beans, sausages and bacon rind.
After the serving of the beans, the teams can be seen around the town, “suiting up” with padding, helmets and uniforms. Horse drawn carts with each team began racing by as they headed to their appointed starting points and we knew the time was near. We started walking through the town to pick out where we wanted to witness this spectacle. Each courtyard had varying viewpoints. Some completely exposed, others out their windows had the distinct pleasure of having a great view but being too high to be vulnerable to stray flying oranges, and then finally there was the area behind the netting. This is similar to the netting they use at baseball games to protect the audience from fly balls coming from home plate, but not nearly as effective (which we found out a little too late). We found our place behind the netting, but still giving us a great view of the piazza. There are some announcements made, people settled in and the process for us went something like this: 1. watch the horse pulled cart arrive with the first team to the right of us, watch as they put helmets on, come through and attack the team right in front of us during which we had to take cover. 2. As they drove passed we try to take pictures while still dodging flying oranges 3. Prepare for the next team to drive through from the other side who was close enough to get some good shots but be quick enough to take cover before they started attacking. As the carts move into the piazzas the teams waiting for them in the squares and the lunatics on the carts themselves go absolutely mad, hurling oranges at each other like demented maniacs. It was utter insanity!
Rob ended up with the biggest “orange souvenir” in the form of bright red cheek, as he was unable to avoid a whole orange hitting the side of his face. Munchkin and I would continue to find chucks of orange in just about every nook and cranny of our clothing, but at least we smelled good right? When we thought the battles had all ended, we courageously headed out from behind the netted curtain and waded through the grossness that is now a sludge of smashed oranges and what I am certain had to be horse manure. There is chatter and laughing as we recount the exciting activity …until Rob and I hear the familiar sounds of another team coming through. Our eyes meet and then widened, as we both realized that we were about to be in the path of another round. We immediately grabbed Ben and found our way as quickly as possible through the crowd and trying our best not to slip and fall as we sloshed around in orange sludge. As we escaped, our adventure in Ivrea came to an end. Next up…we finally get to see Da Vinci’s Last supper!