The medieval football that is played in the square of Florence

Throughout history, sport, no matter what it is, has involved energy adrenaline session euphoria outrage and the occasional increase in heart rate for those who watch it from the tribune or sofa at home.

In the end, there is always a win and a failure. With luck and without immediate access to too much alcohol, both sides can enjoy the catharsis that released emotions elicit.

So, in theory at least, throughout history this sport has proven to be a creative alternative to our recurring tendency to kill each other.

What brings me to Florence, where I work part of the year and where we are currently recovering from an annual sports therapy, is an extremely rude ball game played in a giant sandbox in the center of the city.

No one knows precisely when Calico Historic or historic football was first played , but it’s court, Piazza Santa Croce, dates back to the 14th century and the rules of the game – if they can be called that – were written in the late 1500s.

The four districts of the city – Santos Spirit, San Giovanni, Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce, named for their extraordinary local churches – each select a team of 27 men.

The objective, during two heats and one final, is for the players to pass the ball through a 1.2 meter net located on the opposite edges of the court.

To achieve this, players use both hands and feet and each part of their body to fight, hit and immobilize opponents who cross their path.

In other words, it is a silent contest disguised as a sport.

15th century

It is the same event that was played in Florence in the 15th century. Each match is preceded by fanfare with trumpets and a drumming procession as dignitaries dressed in the rich Renaissance colors of their teams march through the districts towards the piazza .

The only concession to modernity are the shirts worn by the players with the logos of their sponsors, but these must be removed within minutes of entering the field. So viewers see only bare torsos, covered in sand and sweat, throwing themselves at each other as the crowd roars approval or disapproval with each goal or caccia , which is greeted with a cannon shot.

The city-states of Renaissance Italy were small towns compared to modern urbanizations, but rivalries between prominent families and wars between clans (remember the Capulets and the Verona Montagues) were always under the surface.

The more astute authorities found civilian ways to release the pressure

The Calcio Storico caused injuries and deaths, but also resulted in stars that became local celebrities.

There were also corporate or royal boxes, where ruling families and visiting dignitaries could observe the action from a privileged place.

The important piazza

And although today the authorities spend millions of dollars on sports stadiums, more as a way to control the crowds, in Renaissance Italy they used for their events what they already had: horse races through winding streets, fights on bridges in cities near the water.

But one of the great legacies of Renaissance culture is that the ideal architectural location was perfected to stimulate both celebration and contention: the Piazza or the town square.

And none of them have been used more than the soccer field in the center of Florence.

The Franciscans, who built the great church of Santa Croce, which dominates the square, chose the area because it was poor. As it was near the river, the dyers lived there. Here the mercantile fortune of Florence emerged, where fabric was imported from all over Europe and turned into a rainbow of colors to feed the fashion appetite of the growing middle classes.

The proof remains on the walls of any church: the frescoes that tell biblical stories set in the 15th century with characters, often local residents, dressed in the latest fashion.

But the original inhabitants of Santa Croce did not share that wealth or enjoy the spectacle. It was in this piazza that the Medici family celebrated the wedding of Lorenzo (who would be the Magnificent) with a tournament.

In recent years there have been modern prophets. Since the 19th century marble statue of Dante was moved from the center of the square to its current position on the church steps, the piazza has become the perfect gathering place

or open-air rock concerts. Here, on a hot September night four years ago, I had my own form of epiphany during a Leonard Cohen musical sermon.

I remember thinking then what Dante would think of all this, although the real challenge for his marble features was last year, when the Italian actor Roberto Benigni went to Santa Croce to give his famous recital of Inferno songs.

Of course, the square has also been the scene of disasters. Despite irregular flooding, nothing prepared Florence for a night in November 1966, when the Arno overflowed and the sewage ran over the state archives and the great church, where the water level reached the crucifix of Cimabue hanging on the wall. altar.

It was a national disaster that led to an international rescue effort. Thousands of volunteers came from around the world to help with cleanup operations.

But in the end, as with all great civic spaces, it is the daily existence of the piazza that gives it its power. Although Santa Croce may be richer today, it is still filled with small apartments, many with limited access to light or outside space.

The square is our public homeland. Every morning you see a swarm of people walking their dogs, children with bicycles, the occasional market, the crowds of tourists and buskers, painters and souvenir vendors that flock to it.

The best time of the day is sunset, when sunset spectators gather on the steps of the church. Many are American students waiting to break into nightclubs. My favorites are the ones that look like Paris Hilton, staggering across the tiles in dizzying heels.

Commerce, concerts, sports and the unlimited number of people who sit and people watch – Santa Croce has it all.

But back to the sport, I bet you want to know the result of Calcio Storico this year. It was a dramatic event. The final, which is often played on June 24, the day of San Juan, had to be canceled due to torrential rain. In true Calcio spirit, the blues and whites were inside the sandbox vigorously discussing whether or not they should play. But the party was officially stopped for security reasons.

When it took place six days later, the winners were the Santa Croce Blues. It was a clearly cathartic encounter, a fifth of the players were sent off for violent behavior and the celebrations that followed were in full swing.

I know this because I was up all night because of the noise. That is something that has not changed in Florence: the street tiles have as much echo today as they did in the past.

 

 

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