Could You Survive the Calcio Storico Fiorentino?

Imagine taking football and mixing it with rugby, then adding in some wrestling.  Calcio Storico Fiorentino, which roughly translates as historic football, is the earliest form of soccer to be played in Italy. Its story began in the 16th Century but continues today, played throughout the month of June in Florence.  This will be one of those events that will form the headline of your Italian holiday and a lively and colourful experience that you’re likely to remember forever.

The “rules” of Calcio Storico

The tournament includes four teams, each made up of 27 players.  The teams represent the four historic districts of Florence – the Bianchi of Santo Spirito, the Azzurri of Santa Croce, the Rossi of Santa Maria Novella, and the Verdi of San Giovanni.  If you have ever read Shakespeare, you will know that the Italians are famed for holding ancient grudges; some of these are played out on a dusty square in Florence each year.

The aim of the game is simple – to bring the ball to the enemy’s side and score a goal – or a calcianti. However, the play is not quite that straightforward.

The game originated from Harpastum, a Greek term for ‘tear, grab or take away with force’.  The aim is to dispossess the opposition of the ball in whatever way possible and retain it for yourself, whatever way you can.  This might involve some gouging, or hitting, or sitting on the opposition.  With 54 players on the field of play the battles sometimes do not have much to do with the ball.

The winner is the team with the most goals when the end of the 50 minutes is sounded.  The overall champion is awarded the prized Chianina heifer and bragging rights over the other teams for an entire year.

Enjoy a completely unique experience

The game was initially played to entertain those of high status and wealth in Florence.  Now, across June, the players entertain visiting tourists.  You could witness one of the round matches, one of the semi-finals or you could be lucky enough to catch the final which takes place on the 24th June which coincides with St John’s Day – who is the Patron Saint of Florence.

You will have seen nothing like this in your travels around the world.  It is an intense and physical sport that provides excitement in whatever corner of the square you glance.  The men who play need to be fit, and they play topless, decked out in historical outfits from a time gone by, giving an almost gladiatorial feel to the proceedings. It is an exhibition of strength and colour and should not be missed.

As an extra treat, at the end of the day’s celebrations, a spectacular fireworks display takes place at Piazelle Michelangelo – with excited spectators lining the banks of the Arno to watch.