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Calcio Storico Fiorentino
History and fun facts about Florence’s most powerful folklore tradition

In Italy, wherever you go you’ll find a tradition, and in Florence the most deep-rooted of all is Calcio Storico Fiorentino. 50 minutes of brute strength, collisions, dodges and clenched-teeth sprints, in which the 27 players on either team, known as calcianti, will do anything – including thump each other – to get the ball and win the game on a sand-covered arena in beautiful Piazza Santa Croce. They say it was here, in 1530, while the city was under siege by the army of Charles V of Habsbug, that the Florentines played a game of Calcio Storico in mockery of their enemies.

Rooted in the Middle Ages, the competition’s golden age was between the 15th and 18th centuries and, following a long period of abandonment, it came back into fashion in the 1930s, becoming an unmissable annual event disputed by the four historical quarters of the city, each with its colour:

– the Blues of Santa Croce
– the Reds of Santa Maria Novella
– the Whites of Santo Spirito
– the Greens of San Giovanni.

But don’t be deceived by the name, it’s got nothing in common with a football match, and not only because of the historical costumes: to put the ball in the net and score a goal – or rather, a caccia, the players can use their hands as well as their feet. What’s more, all kinds of martial arts are allowed to tackle one’s opponent and gain ground. Fists, kicks, holds and headbutts: (almost) anything goes to advance and get to the goal. No substitutions, no breaks.

The prize for the winning team – nowadays symbolic – is a Chianina cow and the pride of seeing their flag flying for a whole year outside the Palagio di Parte Guelfa.

The main event happens in June, but the teams taking part in the semifinals are selected at Easter, with a draw held before the famous Scoppio del Carro. The finals are traditionally on 24 June, the feast of Florence’s patron Saint John, but for 2024 the date has been exceptionally brought forward to 15 June.

(ph.s Alessandro Bencini)

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