Calcio Storico – Florence’s ancient ball sport

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It’s Calcio Storico time, the historic football tournament played each year in Florence‘s Piazza Santa Croce.

Arising in Florence during the 1500s, Calcio Storico (a.k.a. Calcio Fiorentino) is believed to have taken inspiration from games played during Roman times.

It was the game of choice for the Renaissance ruling classes. Even Popes (including the two Medici popes – Clement VII, Leo XI – and Urban VIII were said to have played the sport within Vatican City).

The official rules date back to 1580, when they were written down by Florentine Count, Giovanni de’ Bardi. The regulations say that the game is to be played on a field of sand, with a net of about 1 metre in height running across each end of the field to delineate the goal lines.

In recent times, there have been some slight adjustments to the Calcio Storico rules, mostly intended to make the game less violent.

The aim of the game is to get the ball across the lines, pretty much by any means possible. Hands and feet can be used to handle the ball, and pretty much anything goes – including punching, kicking, biting and headbutting.

There are some rules however, such as that all confrontations must be one-on-one only and no chocking or sucker-punching is allowed at threat of expulsion from the field.

During the Florentine historical football match itself, no substitutions are allowed for injured or expulsed players.

One point – or ‘cacce’ – is scored for each goal and half a point for each time the opponents throw the ball above the net.

In Florence, there are four teams representing each of the quartiers of the city, with each team consisting of 27 players. The quartiers are San Giovanni (the ‘Verdi’ – greens), Santa Maria Novella (the ‘Rossi’ – reds), Santo Spirito (the ‘Bianchi’ – whites) and Santa Croce (the ‘Azzurri’ – blues).

The players are clad in uniforms of colourful medieval pantaloons, with most playing bare-chested. Even despite the medieval get up, not many would be likely want to make fun of these men, Florence’s toughest!

The teams face each other off in two 50-minute matches held mid-late June. There is then the Calcio Storical final on 24th June to coincide with the feast day of San Giovanni (St John), the patron saint of Florence.

Before each match, a historic parade accompanies the players to the field in Piazza Santa Croce with much fanfare, including flag throwing in Florence and music.

The prize for this blood sport?

A cow.

Yes, the winning team receives a real Chianina Cow.

And the prestige of winning, of course.

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