This weekend I had the opportunity to partake in what I have to say is the most wonderfully peculiar experience I’ve had so far. It was called the Battaglia delle Arance (Battle of the Oranges). This celebration is unique to Ivrea, a small city in the northeastern region of Piedmonte. At its most basic level, the event is a three-day food fight using leftover oranges from Sicily’s winter crop. However, this description is like saying the Superbowl is a four-hour attempt to run an oddly shaped ball from one end of a field to the other.
The battle is a complex event of immense local pride. It has its roots in medieval times, when the citizens rose up against an oppressive king. This is represented by the nine teams of townspeople and over a hundred horse-drawn carts containing the “soldiers.” The townspeople are spread out over five plazas, and each team richly decorates their turf with huge banners and flags. Every team also has a specific uniform and fight song. The carts carry the soldiers between the different plazas to be pelted by the townspeople – those riding on them are fewer in number but have the benefit of the high ground and a “suit of armor” resembling paintball gear. Another advantage is not having to walk through the four-inch deep orange slop covering the square. These tactical gains come at a price; a place on the cart costs €500 for two days. The two-day limit was imposed because there are so many people that want a place on a cart that it’s not possible to accommodate them all for the whole festival!
The spectacle doesn’t just include orange throwing. At night there are fireworks to celebrate the selection of the Miller’s Daughter – the townswoman who, according to legend, sparked the revolution. There are also marching bands, food vendors, and a symbolic funeral on the last night that marks the end of Carnival and the start of Lent.
For spectators who want to observe the festivities, a red hat is a must. It identifies you as a neutral observer. Around the battle plazas, huge nets are strung from the buildings to protect both those watching the orange fight and the windows of the surrounding buildings. However, there are no guarantees you won’t get hit by a wayward citrus fruit, and be warned – if you decide to throw an orange, all bets are off and you’re fair game!
What amazed me the most was the amount of passion and dedication that went into such a seemingly ridiculous affair. While the majority of participants were locals, we did see a few groups from Germany, Japan, and California. It was clear that the battle is an integral part of the town’s identity. Despite the steady rain, the high spirits and enthusiasm of the crowd were infectious, and I found myself laughing and smiling for most of the afternoon.
Until a stray orange hit me in the side of the head.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Elizabeth Benz is a lifetime upstate New York resident who never takes the snow brush out of the back seat of her car. Originally from Buffalo, NY, she is a senior Music Education/Violin Performance major and Italian minor at Ithaca College. These three passions were intertwined on a life-changing trip in 2006 to the International Suzuki Method Conference in Turin, Italy, where she not only saw the communicative power of music across young artists from many nationalities, but also fell in love with the language and culture of the country. Eight years later she is fulfilling the promise she made to herself to return to Italy, after completing her senior student teaching practicum. She is particularly interested in observing the emphasis and importance placed on youth music and arts programs across Europe, and returning with ideas to inspire and support her own program at a future teaching job.</span></p>