FLORENCE: June, 2nd fortnight.
It is known that the Florentine tradition of the “Calcio Fiorentino” (Florentine Soccer or Florentine Historical Soccer) also called “Calcio Storico” (Historic Soccer) dates back from the times of the Roman Civilization in Florence.
The “Calcio Storico” is a kind of soccer or football game which was formerly conceived in the Greek military encampments as a form of amusement and of exercise for the soldiers to strength arms and legs musculature between battle and battle.
Then it was exported to the italic peninsula and, most concretely, to Florence around the year 59 b.C., becoming quickly a traditional sport among the Roman soldiers in the city who kept on playing it according to the Greek practice, but changing the original name of “Episciro” into the Latin one of “Harpastum”.
In the Renaissance it became an aristocratic game, which was played by the youth members of the main Florentine families, even if it continued to be essentially played in the same way as it had been established in ancient times: on a surface of plain land (about 80 x 40 meters), then in Piazza Santa Croce, covered by sand, and by two formations of equal number of young, strong and athletic men called “calcianti” (players), 27 per formation, so 54 players in total, using both feet and hands in a game consisting in a mix of Greco-Roman wrestling and bare-knuckle fighting and of the later football and rugby.
Rules had been almost symbolic until 1580, when Count Giovanni Bardi published the first official rules, though they were by no means rigorous, as the main objective continued to be to get hold of the ball – in the age consisting of rags, horsehair or feathers pressed and covered by a piece of sewn leather – and score as much as possible “caccie” (goals) to the opposing formation, as well as to avoid the contrary team to score.
The team obtaining more points or “caccie” in the 50 minutes “Calcio” match was the winner.
All the “calcianti” were lined along four horizontal lines, bearing a resemblance to the order of the combating division in the units of the ancient Roman Legion. Each team was divided into the lines for the goalkeepers, for the defenders, for the centre forward players, and for the attackers. Back “Datori” was the name given to the side defenders and the two half-back lines were called forward “Datori” and “Sconciatori”, while the attackers, for the “caccia” to score, were called “Innanzi” or “Corridori”, as they were the components of the fastest lines.
Consequently to its popularity among the aristocratic class and the high figures of the Vatican, including popes (Clemente VII, Leone IX and Urbano VIII), who were deeply attracted by this game, as well as being used to play it regularly in their youth, the game had a great impact throughout the Italian frontiers so to stimulate the birth of the later football.
Nowadays, both the aesthetic - all the “calcianti” keep on being dressed in a 16th century costume - and the rules have remained basically unchanged, so to be almost allowed everything on condition to turn the match into a singular, exciting and amazing spectacle, consisting in 50 minutes of incessant struggles, attacks, blows and the tied bodies of the “calcianti” dressed in their incredible Renaissance costume. Every “caccia” scored is followed by an impressive cannon shot.
In total there are held three matches during the second half of June or in the first days of July, although the 24th June, the day of the saint patron of Florence, is a fixed date.
They are always played in Piazza Santa Croce, which is previously covered by sand, turning for those events into a peculiar mini-stadium.
The matches are traditionally played by the four teams representing the historical quarters of the capital city of Tuscany: Green Team (quarter of San Giovanni/ Basptistery); Red Team (quarter of Santa Maria Novella); Blue Team (quarter of Santa Croce) and White Team (quarter of Santo Spirito/ Oltrarno).
Each match is preceded by a great parade of 500 people dressed in Renaissance costume pertaining to the corresponding club teams and leaded by the “nobles” on horseback. It departs, in the middle of a solemn sound of drums and trumpets, at 4 pm from Piazza Santa Maria Novella and culminates in Piazza Santa Croce, after having going through a long extent of the historical centre of Florence: Via de’ Banchi, Via Rondinelli, Via Tornabuoni, Via Strozzi, Piazza della Repubblica, Via degli Speziali, Via Calzaiuoli, Piazza della Signoria, Via della Ninna and Via de’ Neri.
When the match is over, the winning team is rewarded with a great deal of steaks from the best white “Chianina” calf in being in Florence’s markets. Therefore a remarkable feast mainly consisting in tasty “bistecche alla fiorentina” starts!
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