The Battle of the Oranges: proof that Italy’s Carnevale celebrations go way further than its well known Carnival of Venice. While one of my biggest dreams is to visit Venice during their famous Carnevale, I decided to take part in a more local and very unique celebration in Ivrea; a Province of Turin, located about 30 minutes from the city. The Historical Carnival of Ivrea or, Storico Carnevale di Ivrea, and its roots are incredibly interesting. The entire carnival has evolved over time to become what it is today. Initially, the carnival was a celebration for the return of Spring and “reawakening of nature”. Later, the festival merged with the ideas of the revolution and it’s emphasis on freedom leaving the original theme less prominent. Today, the latter theme remains and is the main story of the event.
When we arrived in Ivrea, we were immediately engulfed in a sea of people in red caps throwing confetti in the air. The streets were lined with ‘team’ flags and symbols; every area of the city and team different from the next. Orange throwers and supporters alike, both who strongly identify with a particular group, can be found decked out in their team garb from head to toe. As we made our way to the city center, trying to find our home-base at one of the many piazzas in which the battles take place, we enjoyed beer, sandwiches, and views of the Alps and the Dora; all while watching horse-drawn aranceri carts ride down the streets. It was the most perfect Sunday afternoon stroll, if you ask me!
After all of the aranceri carts are in place and lined up for battle, and you’ve chosen the piazza from which you’ll watch the celebration, the Battaglia delle Arance begins. Hundreds of people begin hurling oranges at one another, flooding the streets with the crushed fruit and the town with the wonderful citrus aroma. Luckily, we were able to stand behind the net that lined the piazza; watching the battle, laughing, and getting sprayed with orange juice all while avoiding a blow to the skull. But the celebration is more than just a food fight. The Battle of the Oranges is essentially a reenactment of the war between the people of Ivrea and the Royal Napoleonic Troops, or the tyrants army, after the tyrant was slain by the miller’s daughter. The battle symbolizes the townspeople who defended their piazzas from the troops by creating a battle between orange throwers on foot and orange throwers in carts. Those in the carts are dressed in armor (and face masks!) while those on foot wear only their basic clothing with symbols and colors that flaunt their team (no armor); simply representing the battle between those in power versus the poor townspeople. The oranges symbolize the arrows and weapons that would have originally been used (thank God it’s 2017) and although oranges are the better option, they’re actually good oranges! What I mean is, they’re not rotten aka they are not soft—I would know because I took three and ate them… Some blood was definitely shed (I’m talking about the kid in front of me who got rocked in the nose) and some injuries were probably sustained. But hey, it’s all part of the experience…that incredible, colorful experience. It’s such an energizing celebration and it’s awesome to see just how many people are engaged in it. If you look up, you’ll see those who live in the city watching the battle from their windows. If you’re brave enough you can watch from the “battlefield” and also partake in battle. I tried to get out there but I couldn’t get passed the net. Bummer.
As I said before, those attending the carnival can purchase a red hat to wear throughout the celebration. Not only do the red hats add to the event’s aesthetic, but red Phrygian caps historically represented freedom for slaves and peasants; so the sea of people in their red hats symbolizes the many townspeople who were also a part of this revolution. Wearing one also means you are not directly partaking in the orange battle. I can’t guarantee that you won’t get hit- but the uncertainty is what makes it adventurous, right!? Just kidding, kind of…Unless you’re on the “battlefield”, your chances of getting hit are pretty slim. And standing behind the nets still gives you a perfect view of the fight, so, you’re covered. Literally.
After the battle has concluded and the streets are slippery from orange peels and juice, there is a lovely, traditional procession through the streets of Ivrea which includes floats, men and women on horses, musical groups, and flag holders; representing all of the people that took place in this battle. The entire town is blocked off so you are free to roam the streets without worrying about cars. Just make sure to watch out for those aranceri carts (and horse poo).
While you’re making your way back to the parking lot or train station, make sure you grab a little piece of Ivrea to take home with you at Pasticceria Talmone. It was my first time trying the soft and fluffy Polentina d’Ivrea. It’s a traditional cake of Ivrea and Talmone’s is absolutely delicious. At Talmone, you can also grab some gelato, tortoloni shaped pastries filled with gianduia chocolate, or take home some orange marmalade which is sure to remind you of your time at the Storico Carnevale di Ivrea with every bite.
To be completely honest, I didn’t know about this carnival celebration until my family told me more about it. I was so consumed with seeing the Carnival of Venice until I realized I didn’t want to be like everyone else I knew that had gone to Italy during Carnevale season. And I think I made the right choice. This celebration is truly fascinating and it’s such a beautiful display. I’d do it all over again if I could and chances are, if one of my future Italy trips is during Carnevale, I certainly will.