Calcio Storico: Everything You Need to Know
Calcio Storico is an annual event that takes place every June in Florence, Italy. The game has a long and fabled history that has been preserved and is still celebrated every year. A precursor to games such as Soccer and Rugby, it is a sporting event like no other. Here you will find everything you need to know about the event, ranging from its history to how you can attend.
The origins of Calico Storico can vary depending on who is doing the telling. Many consider the game to be a revival of the ancient Roman game of harpastum. There are stories that suggest that the famous Arno river, that passes through Florence, was frozen solid in 1490 and a variation of Calcio Storico was played on it.
The official Calcio Storico website states that the game which is celebrated today, took place on February 17, 1530. The city was under siege by the imperial troops of Carlo V. .Legend has it that the game was played within view of the siege lines as a form of defiance. It was held in Piazza Santo Croce where the game is still played today.
The games popularity started to decline in the 17thcentury. In 1930, the game was reorganized under the Kingdom of Italy. It remains one of the most popular and culturally significant games in Florence. Droves of locals come out to watch the games or view the televised broadcast. In the last few years, since a featured episode on Vice, international interest has begun to grow.
Influence on Modern Sports
Florentines credit Calcio Storico as the originator of modern soccer, the most popular sport in the world. In 1540, Caterina de Medici moved to Paris where it is claimed she helped spread this popular Florentine tradition. The claim is that the English viewed the sport in France and brought it back to England and later to Ireland. From there Soccer and Rugby were formed and subsequently American football.
A Violent Tradition
Henry III of France is famously quoted as saying “too small to be a real war and too cruel to be a game”, after observing a match played in his honor in Venice. Most westerners would regard the game as a combination of Rugby and mixed martial arts. In a game where head-butting, elbowing, grappling and bare knuckle boxing is allowed, it is definitely not for the feint of heart.
The game has had many serious injuries and deaths over the years which has prompted rules such as no kicks to the head and no sucker punching. The game can be very chaotic and it can be difficult to enforce these rules. I observed at least two knockouts from kicks to the head and multiple sucker punches.
Because of the violent nature of the game, paramedics line the outside of the field, ready to intervene the moment a player is unconscious or seriously injured.
Date of Events
There are two semi-final events that take place the latter part of June. The Final match culminates on June 24thevery year. June 24this also San Giovanni day (St. John the Baptist) which is a very important day in the city, as he is the patron saint of Florence.
The game is played on a large field made of sand, with all players wearing traditional dress. Each team has 27 players and there are no substitutions allowed. This can make for quite a spectacle because if one team has injured players, they can quickly become outnumbered.
The basic objective is to get the palio (ball) into the opposing team’s goal anyway they can. If the palio goes over the goal net, the opposing team is awarded ½ a point. This can make for cautious attempts to score since a miss will penalize you.
The beginning of the match and the scoring of a goal is signified by the firing of a small cannon. After a goal is scored, the teams switch sides.
Due to the ½ point rule for overshot goals and no substitutions for injured players, the game can begin slowly. As the 50-minute time limit draws closer, it becomes a free-for-all as each team tries to gain the advantage.
Each team are comprised of the 4 historic neighborhoods of Florence. Santa Maria Novella is Rossi (Red Team) and San Giovanni is Verdi (Green). Santo Spirito is Bianchi (white) and Santa Croce is Azzurri (blues). As with any sporting event, locals come out to support their local teams wearing their respective colors.
The modern day gladiators all come from different fight disciplines and are celebrities amongst their adoring fans. The Calcianti (players) play for the glory of the neighborhoods and view it as an honor to participate. They put their well-being on the line for the pride of being the select few who make up this brotherhood.
Although the pride of each team is paramount, at the end of the finale, there is no animosity between players. The 4 colors become one, purple… the color for all Florentines.
Attending the Event
Ticket sale dates change slightly every year. The sale of online tickets has been eliminated in order to discourage ticket scalpers. Each person is allowed to buy a maximum of 4 tickets. The cost of tickets varies based upon what section you choose. The most expensive tickets are typically 80 euros for the center seats that are in a shaded area (Tribuna A Centrale).
Box Office Toscana has sold tickets for the event the last few years. This year, tickets did not go on sale until 5 days before the first event. If you plan on buying tickets, arrive very early. They have a deli-style ticket dispenser that you can use so you don’t lose your place in line.
Tips for the Event
The most expensive tickets are in the center and is completely shaded (Tribuna A Centrale). If you are seated anywhere else, you will be directly under the sun for the duration of the event. Florence in June is extremely hot and humid so plan accordingly. Wear plenty of sunblock and bring a hat and water.
Also, do yourself a favor and make sure you are not wearing the opposing team’s colors if you are not sitting in that section. Passions run high and it is not a good idea to antagonize the locals by wearing the wrong colors in that section.
Getting to the Event
Normal bus schedules are all deviated away from the event. Luckily, Florence is a very walkable city and getting to Piazza Santa Croce is best done by foot. Due to the popularity of the games, you can easily follow the crowds of fans that are headed in that direction.
Live a Part of History
The biggest draw that Italy holds is its preservation of its architecture and traditions throughout the centuries. The beginning of the games starts with a procession with participants wearing historic garb from the renaissance period. It begins in Piazza Santa Maria Novella and ends at Piazza Santa Croce, where the game is played.
The fact that this game has survived all these years is a great source of pride for the locals and a wonderful opportunity for visitors to the city. Attending the event is like stepping back in time and gives you the opportunity to participate is something culturally significant to the Florentine people.
You get the chance to sit in the same piazza where this game was first played nearly 600 years ago in defiance of an invading army.
Whether you are an avid sports fan or just a lover of history, attending Calcio Storico is a must when visiting beautiful Florence in June.