Battle of the Oranges

March 2 - 4, 2014
Ivrea , Italy
Photo credit: Pigliapost via Flickr Creative Commons
Crowd
    Intimate to                 Massive
Attendees
    Local to                 International
Participation
    Spectator to                 Immersive
Preparation
    Simple to                 Complicated
Transformation
    Quiet to                 Life-Altering

Overview

How does the ancient town of Ivrea, Italy celebrate its freedom during carnival? By pummelling each other with 500,000 kilograms of oranges, of course.

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Festival Stats
  • Crowd
  • Attendees
  • Participation
  • Preparation
  • Transformation

Location

The battle takes place in the town square of Ivrea, a town located in Turin in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy.

Chip's take

Comparing La Tomatina festival with the Battaglia delle Arance is like comparing…

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Comparing La Tomatina festival with the Battaglia delle Arance is like comparing apples and oranges (or, literally, tomatoes and oranges). Yes, Spain’s La Tomatina gets more attention, but this festival has more history, pomp and circumstance, plus it's perfect for those who like a more sophisticated food fight. While it happens right around Mardi Gras, the preparation starts as early as January 6th (Epiphany), when Ivrea’s town square hosts a grand procession every Sunday, full of costumes and enough noise to raise the dead.

The party turns up the volume the Thursday before Lent, when the town’s bars are full of the masked and merry. Each day that follows gets more intense, and floppy red bonnets are everywhere the Sunday before the oranges start getting tossed. If you enjoy traveling the world to experience carnival-related events, this needs to be on your list.

Battaglia delle Arance is perfect for those who like a more sophisticated food fight.

Photos & Videos From the Festival

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  • Battle of Oranges

Essentials

Prepare for battle. The wildest is on the old bridge. The streets are narrow and the fruit piles up so much that snow-removal equipment is used to clear the way.

You must be part of a team to participate in the battle; foreigners are usually accepted if they pay a fee (about $120). It’s worth negotiating beforehand how intense you want your involvement to be; those on the frontline can end up with gashes on their heads. It’s perfectly acceptable to stand behind the safety nets, especially if you have any cuts on your body (orange juice stings).

Feast on fagiolate. The delicacy of beans and cured pork is best washed down with red wine and is often available for free in certain parts of Ivrea during the carnival. Tastings start at around 9am on the first Sunday and can be found around town; try Bellavista in Viale Kennedy 1, San Giovanni in Piazza Boves and Torre Balfredo in Borghetto 2. Check listings in Ivrea for exact times and locations.

Try the vin bruléThis local spiced wine is served hot.


Practicalities

Fly into Citta di Torino Airport (TRN) in Turin. From there, it’s about a 20-minute drive to Ivrea. Bus, rental car and taxi are the most common ways to reach this small town of 25,000.

Pack non-slip shoes and, of course, a berretto frigio (red beret).

Details

It’s a familiar story: commoners rise up against an oppressive ruler. At the Carnevale di Ivrea, however, the battle isn’t waged with guns and swords—oranges are the weapon of choice. Every year, the tiny northern city of Ivrea in the Turin province stockpiles 500,000 kilograms of fresh oranges for Battaglia delle Arance (Battle of the Oranges), a re-creation of a historic fight between townsfolk and a ruling tyrant. Teams wage a full-on fruit war, and not even a red-capped declaration of sovereignty can protect you from getting juiced.

Leading Lady

Legend says that some time between the 12th and 13th centuries, Ivrea’s lord attempted to rape the daughter of a miller on the eve of her wedding, exercising his droit du seigneur (right of the lord) to take the virginity of his serfs’ daughters. In a twist of fate, the plan backfired, and the rebellious young woman decapitated him. With one brave strike of her sword, she set the town free from his oppression. The townspeople  battled against the lord’s henchmen, who were elevated in horse-drawn carts while they were on ground level.

Today, this struggle between the classes is represented by “the lord’s followers” in carts wearing jesters’ outfits, and “commoners” on their feet in sporting uniforms. The miller’s daughter, Violetta, is represented by a woman dressed in white and a crimson-red headdress, who throws yellow flowers and candies to her admirers. The oranges represent the tyrannical lord’s head, but for centuries it was a “battle of the beans.” The modern festival evolved from the way flirty local girls dropped oranges from a balcony to get the attention of boys they were interested in; if the feeling was mutual, the boys would reply with an orange of their own.

The Battlefield

Unlike Spain’s La Tomatina, the Battle of the Oranges isn’t a backpacker free-for-all. It’s highly structured, steeped in history and contains some competitive elements. It’s free and fun to watch for nearly 100,000 spectators, but for the nine competitive teams of almost 4,000, it’s serious business and the highlight of the year.

The horse-drawn carts and their despised armored occupants represent the emperor’s men—and they get a serious pelting. Officially, you need to be part of a foot-soldier mercenary group such as the Mercenri to be in battle. Unofficially (and against the rules), just wander into the battle zone, remove your red cap and start chucking oranges. This is a rebellion of the people, and you can be among them, but be warned that while few suffer serious injuries, many wake up with orange-size bruises the next day. (There’s quite a bit of mulled wine pouring through the system of most combatants, so expect a disproportionate degree of intensity from a few orange-lobbers.) Wearing a red hat or head wrap is supposed to leave you exempt from a direct hit, but being anywhere on the ground in the town’s square leaves you open to being pelted.

This is a rebellion of the people, and you can be among them, but be warned that while few suffer serious injuries, many wake up with orange-size bruises the next day.

The carnival takes place the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday (Mardi Gras) before Ash Wednesday. The orange battle starts Sunday at 2pm, and the evening prior, a joyous procession pays respect to the woman standing in for the miller’s daughter. The festival ends on Mardi Gras, when awards, determined by judges patrolling the piazzas and by the defenders themselves, are handed out to the top-performing teams. This is another dichotomy of the event; while the battle is quite competitive and there is pride in winning, it’s really all about the celebration. The festival concludes with a sword-wielding Violetta watching over a scarlo, a pole with juniper and heather bushes. If the scarlo burns fast and bright, the future looks good; a slow burn is a bad omen for the coming year.

Although the battle is more than a little messy and even violent on occasion, the townspeople of Ivrea consider it a birthright and an important part of their culture. They find the battle “liberating” and “joyous,” and consider their aggression a way to reaffirm the vigor with which they once resisted oppression. Looking around at today’s world, we couldn’t think of a more relevant theme.