The game of Calcio Storico Fiorentino
June in Florence is all about Calcio Storico (or Calcio in Costume), the main event of the summer for the florentines.
Legend has it that the game originated from the roman Harpastum, an ancient sport played by two teams who's goal was to get the ball - made of rags or leather - into the opposite side of the field, by any means necessary. Since it involved body combat, it was a very popular game among the legionary soldiers.
the Calcio Fiorentino was originally
played among the higher social class, and among the most famous players we
can remember Piero II the son of Lorenzo
il Magnifico, the Duke of Mantova
Vincenzo Gonzaga, Grand Duke Cosimo
I de Medici, and even young Giulio
and Alessandro de Medici who later became respectively Pope Clemente VII
and Leone XI.
By the late XV century this game had become so succesful that it was often played among the florentines in the streets and squares, not missing to cause some kind of disturbance to the quiet of these places. So much in fact, that it was made necessary to put up signs forbidding citizens to play ball near the churches and holy places of the city. Some of these stone signs still remain intact after centuries, and can be seen on the walls of the buildings of the city center.
The most famous match of this sport was the one the florentines played in 1530 in Piazza Santa Croce while the city was under siege, to show Carlo V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, that they were not scared of his army.
Every year in Florence this famous match is celebrated with a tournament involving 4 rival teams, each corresponding to different neighborhoods of the city: Rossi of Santa Maria Novella, Verdi of San Giovanni, Azzurri of Santa Croce and Bianchi of Santo Spirito.
The final match is always played on June 24, the day on wich San Giovanni patron saint of Florence is celebrated.
It is common belief that the Calcio Storico Fiorentino is the sport from which the modern soccer and football developed, but no matter how similar they may seem, brutality is what renders unique Calcio in Costume.
This game is not for the faint of heart, that's for sure, and if you think football is a violent sport, you have never seen a match of Calcio Storico Fiorentino.
The basic rules are simple enough: in a match of 50 minutes, 27 players for each team attempting to get the ball into the opponent's net using both hands and feet. It's illegal to hit a man while he's on the ground, but that's one of the few limitations to the violence involved in the game, in which the objective often seems more about hitting the adversaries than scoring. No deaths have occurred so far, but many players have been hospitalized for months with head injuries or broken bones.
Though violent it might be, this sport is very popular and a reason of pride for the citizens of Florence. Every summer crowds gather in Piazza Santa Croce for the highly anticipated event, marching through the streets of the historical center dressed with the colors of their favourite team. It's a moment of joy and celebration for the city.
So if you happen to be in Florence in June, you should definetly join the party. Attending a match of Calcio Storico Fiorentino is something you will never forget!