a brutal and historic sport with medieval roots

NARRATIVE – The Azzurri of Santa Croce won the 2022 edition of the Calcio storico in Florence, Italy on Friday. A historic competition that takes place every year in the Tuscan capital. Focus on this age-old sport of rare violence.

The 2022 edition, won on Friday by the Azzurri of Santa Croce, was marked by the tribute to Davide Astori, Fiorentina defender and Italy international who died in 2018. His brother Bruno was guest of honor in the final, which was named “Magnifico Messere” as tradition dictates: “It is difficult to describe the emotion of yesterday’s experience on this pitch. To see with my own eyes an event that has retained its charm for over 500 years and to be able to follow it from the privileged position that you have reserved for Davide was truly an honour! A big thank you to Florence, on behalf of our whole family…” he wrote on his Instagram account.

Ancient origins

The origin of Calcio storico remains unclear, but there were several sporting activities as early as the Roman Empire, in ancient times. The legionnaires were already playing harpastein, a practice that, due to its violent side with no real rules, has much in common with medieval and contemporary calcio of Florence. Mixing football, rugby and wrestling, this sport was reserved for wealthy aristocrats and a certain Italian elite, who played every night between Epiphany and Lent. Even some future popes, like Clement VII, Leo XI. and Urban VIII, practiced this sport in Vatican City.

A variant of Calcio Fiorentino was most likely also played in the 15th century when a match was played on the frozen Arno River in 1490. 1574 Henry III. of France attended a meeting held in his honor during a visit to Venice. The king is said to have said, so impressed: “This sport is too easy to be real war but too cruel to be a game”

A raging battle between the Azzurri and the Rossi MASSIMO PINCA / REUTERS

“The most violent sport in the world”

Calcio storico is played with two teams of 27 players each – no substitutions are allowed for injured or sent off players. They consist of four datori indietro (goalkeeper), three datori innanzi (full-back), five sconciatori (half-back), 15 corridor (Attacker).

The captain’s and standard-bearer’s tent is in the middle of the cages. They do not actively participate in the game, but can give tactical direction to their teams and occasionally act as such phew (Referees), mainly to calm down their players or end fights.

After two opening games, the two overall winners advance to the annual final on June 24, the feast of San Giovanni (St. John), Florence’s patron saint.

For decades, these violent struggles resulted in serious injuries, including numerous deaths. Bulls have long been unleashed in the arena to encourage spectators to use money or property to add excitement and violence.

The modern version of calcio has not changed significantly from its historical roots. It still allows for dangerous and violent strategies such as head butts, punches, elbow strikes and chokeholds. Due to the often fatal injuries, punches and kicks to the head are currently prohibited. It is also forbidden to attack an opponent with two people. Any violation will result in exclusion from the game.

A celebration of the city’s history in Piazza Santa Croce VINCENZO PINTO / AFP

An annual medieval festival

The Four Quarter Tournament (Torneo dei Quattro Quartieri ) takes place once a year on the week of June 14th in Florence. An average of 10,000 people travel to see this sports parade where violence becomes artistic and social rivalry centers around the unique Tuscan coat of arms. After the opening games, the two overall winners advance to the annual finals on June 24th, the feast of San Giovanni (St. John), the patron saint of Florence.

The city’s neighborhoods collide during this medieval festival celebrating Florence’s rich culture and rich history: bianchi (“the whites”) from Santo Spirito, the Azzurri (“the blues”) by Santa Croce, the rossi (“the reds”) of Santa Maria Novella and the earnings (“the Greens”) of San Giovanni. The games will be played in Piazza Santa Croce, the city’s main square, which for the occasion is covered with sand to emulate the propriety of an ancient arena. The players are dressed in medieval costumes to portray their role as contemporary gladiators. An Italian-style Proust Madeleine in the cultural cave of La Botte.

  • Pictures from the 2022 final

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