Watching the Battle of the Oranges in Ivrea, Italy

On the train back to Rome, we were covered in orange juice.

It had soaked our jeans and it was in our shoes.

We were still processing what exactly had just happened.

We survived our first Carnevale d’Ivrea.

orange battle festival

The plan came into being rather quickly and it started with a link. Five crazy Italian festivals nobody should miss.

“Oh, sure. This will just be the Palio in Siena and Florentine football,” I thought.

I clicked it anyways, and smugly realized that I was right. Calcio storico and horse racing were there, but so was the orange battle of Ivrea.

A huge food fight, where the entire town battles it out with citrus.

ivrea oranges

WHAT.

How have I never heard of this??!

Some googling later, realized that the 2016 edition was taking place in 6 days time.

I immediately sent Jimmy an email with the link and a lot of PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASES.

carnevale ivrea

We arrived in Ivrea at 10:30 am, via a packed regional train from Torino.

It was cold and raining.  I eyed the unflattering red stocking caps warily, hoping they would provide at least a bit of warmth, before reluctantly handing over my €5 to buy one.

The hats are worn to signify you are a bystander, so please do not hurl oranges at me with too much force, thankyouverymuch.

These Phrygian Hats are also a symbol of freedom, and signify your full support of the event, so knuckle down and get one.

ivrea parade

In spite of the rain, a parade was starting as we arrived.

Unfortunately, the drizzling weather took away a bit from the costumed, carnevale fun.

agnoletti

As the parade made its way to the main piazza, we thought of lunch.

We warmed up and composed ourselves for battle with delicious agnolotti at La Lucciola.

nets at Ivrea festival

The restaurant cleared quickly as everyone headed back into the streets to prep for the main event.

By the time we finished our meal, the mood had shifted and it was clear that the battle was about to begin.

Getting a bit nervous, I stationed myself behind green nets that had been strung up in many locations to protect the buildings and the spectators alike.

Ivrea orange battle

The first teams began to roll through town to take their positions.

Orange Battle Ivrea

And then all hell broke loose.

boy at the orange battle

There were only a few minutes between each ‘attacking’ team to catch your breath.

I gave up the relative safety of the netting, hoping for the best.

Carnevale di Ivrea

The attacking team arrives in a horse drawn cart, with masks on.

The team defending the piazza from the ground swarms quickly.
Ivrea food fight

A key strategy seems to be for the ground players to get as close to the cart as possible, under the shield of friendly fire from other team members, to try to hit the attacking team at close range.

That means putting yourself in close range too.

orange battle italy

Many of the participants wear padding, to avoid serious injury of speeding oranges hurled on a cold day.

ivrea battle costumes

Others? Well. They take the opposite approach:

Ivrea Italy Food Fight

The whole scene feels a little unbelievable.

How did such a dangerous tradition take root?

food fight in the streets

Legend has it that this battaglia delle arance all began thanks to the daughter of a miller who lived in medieval Ivrea.

With the citizens of Ivrea starving at the hand’s of the local baron, Violetta had had enough. No way was she going to allow him the “right of the first night” (when medieval lords were given the right to sleep with a bride before her new husband).

The miller’s daughter went up the castle, and beheaded the evil baron.

medieval food fight

With the baron dead, she called on the oppressed people of the town to revolt.

They tore down the castle that night and it was never rebuilt.

The Orange Battle is a recreation of that revolt.

food fight aftermath

It leaves the whole town smelling freshly squeezed.

However, oranges have only been thrown since the 1950s.  Before then it was beans and candied almonds.

The citrus came in when some local girls, wanting to catch the eye of a particular suitor, started lobbing the odd oranges at the boys to get their attention.

Oranges it is!

Ivrea town during Carnevale

Many of the businesses are smartly closed up behind shutters. The ones that do stay open line their floors with cardboard and cover the walls in plastic sheeting to minimize the juice spray.

They serve mulled wine to keep the battlers going.

stacks of oranges in Ivrea

And there are plenty of fighters.

There are over 4000 throwers on foot belonging to nine teams. Additionally, there are 50 horse-drawn carts filled with 10-12 throwers each.

horses of Ivrea

Actually, I did feel a little bad for those horses.

Orange mush

Crates of oranges line the streets.

DSCF3938

And 1000’s of tons of Calabrian oranges later carpet the streets.

celebrating in Ivrea

It was truly a sight to be seen.

Town square Ivrea Italy

Only 70 people were hurt in the battle this year. We were happy to escape with no more than a juicy drenching.

If you want to watch the Orange Battle in Ivrea yourself, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  1. The battle takes place every year on the Sunday afternoon of Carnevale. This is the Sunday before Good Friday, and so the exact date will change annually.  More information is on the site for the Historical Carnival of Ivrea.
  2. Book your accommodation early if you want to stay in the town.
  3. Alternatively, you can do what we did and stay in Torino. Ivrea is about an hour from Torino by regional train, which costs €5.75 each way.
  4. Tickets into the city to watch the Orange Battle are €8 per person for Sunday. Monday and Tuesday are free.
  5. If you have a red hat, bring it. If not, you can buy a Phrygian hat before the town entrance for €5.
  6. Wear waterproof shoes (it gets juicy) and clothes you don’t mind getting a bit pulp-y. Even bystanders are going to get splashed.
  7. Stay safe and have fun!

11 Comments

  • Reply Sara White February 17, 2016 at 11:09 am

    All that orange carnage is incredible! As is the shirtless guy, who I’m sure is in the list of the 70 people injured by flying oranges.

    • Reply Natalie February 19, 2016 at 7:53 am

      Hahaha, agreed! He looked worse for the wear and it wasn’t half over at that point.

  • Reply nicki February 18, 2016 at 10:35 pm

    Poor horses! We could probably hold a mini version of that with all the unwanted mandarins on the trees in our garden at the moment!

    • Reply Natalie February 19, 2016 at 7:52 am

      Unwanted?? I want them! One of my favorite things about winter in Italy is mandarins 🙂

  • Reply Lucy @ La Lingua February 18, 2016 at 11:23 pm

    This is hilarious! And one of the reasons I bloody love Italy! xxx
    Lucy @ La Lingua | Travel, Food, Italy

    • Reply Natalie February 19, 2016 at 7:53 am

      Right?! Who thinks of this??

  • Reply 24 Hours in Torino – An American in Rome March 4, 2016 at 7:23 am

    […] Our trip was quickly executed and we arrived without a long list of MUST SEEs and TO DOs.  We simply wanted to experience the city with what little time we had before continuing on to the Orange Battle in Ivrea. […]

  • Reply Gaylynn February 21, 2017 at 6:53 pm

    OMG! I can only imagine how getting hit with an orange would hurt. Maybe they should use nurf balls or water balloons. What an experience! I would love to see it, but only from a high rise building. Lol.

    • Reply Natalie February 22, 2017 at 11:10 am

      People were covered in juice (and welts!) I stayed safely behind the nets which worked out quite well!

  • Reply Dena Landry February 11, 2018 at 4:02 pm

    NOPE, no way no how !! what a sticky mess

    • Reply Natalie February 12, 2018 at 11:33 am

      But so so fun!

    Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.