Barbarianism rules the day when Florence celebrates its patron saint John the Baptist, with a bone-crunching combination of soccer, wrestling and rugby in medieval costume.
Calcio storico fiorentino (Florentine historical soccer) pits the city’s four quarters of Santa Croce (the ‘Azzurri’), San Giovanni (‘Verdi’), Santa Maria Novella (‘Rossi’) and Santo Spirito (‘Bianchi’) against each other, with a final showdown in Piazza Santa Croce on June 24th and a garlanded white calf as a trophy.
Dating back to Roman times, it gained such popularity during the Renaissance that impromptu matches held on the streets caused public disorder. Not even a siege could tear the Florentines away from their beloved game; when Charles V’s troops invaded the city in 1530, they famously found themselves spectators to a game of calcio storico being played by unconcerned citizens.
Patron saint celebrations begin on the morning of the 24th, with a medieval procession that winds its way through the streets of Florence from Piazza Santa Maria Novella to Piazza Santa Croce. In 1513 this even counted the rather surreal participation of an elephant named Annone, which had been transported from India in honour of the first Medici pope, much to the startled delight of the local population.
As darkness falls, the city lights up with i fochi di San Giovanni (‘St John’s Fire’ in Florentine dialect), a tradition rooted in pagan solstice celebrations to ward off evil spirits, which now sees its modern incarnation in the form of a spectacular fireworks display.
Calcio storico fiorentino
June 11th: Verdi versus Bianchi;
June 12th: Rossi versus Azzurri;
June 24th: Final.
All games kick off at 5pm at Piazza Santa Croce.
Fireworks display: June 24th from 10–11pm.