a violent and historic sport with medieval roots

STORY – Santa Croce’s Azzurri 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 ancient sport of rare violence.

The 2022 edition, won by the Azzurri of Santa Croce on Friday, paid tribute to Davide Astori, Fiorentina defender and Italian international who died in 2018. His brother Bruno was the guest of honor in the final, named the “Magnifico Messere” as tradition dictates: “It is difficult to describe the emotions of the experience lived in this square yesterday. It was truly an honor to see with my own eyes an event that has retained its charm for over 500 years and to witness it from the privileged position you have reserved for Davide! Many thanks to Florence, on behalf of our whole family…” he wrote on his Instagram account.

ancient origin

The creation of the Calcio storico remains unclear, but there were already several sports activities during the Roman Empire, during ancient times. The legionaries were already playing harpa stone, a practice that has many points in common with the medieval and contemporary calcio of Florence, because of its violent side with no real rules. This sport, a mix of football, rugby and wrestling, was reserved for wealthy aristocrats and a certain Italian elite who played every night between Epiphany and Lent. Even some future popes, such as 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 held on the frozen River Arno in 1490. In 1574, Henry III of France attended a meeting – held in his honor while visiting Venice. The king, so impressed, is said to have said: “This sport is too light to be a 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 – no substitutions are allowed for injured or sent-off players. They are composed of four datori indietro (goalkeepers), three datori innanzi (fullback), five sconciatoria (half defenders), 15 gait (attackers).

The tent of the captain and the standard-bearer is in the middle of the cages. They do not actively participate in the game, but may give tactical instructions to their teams and occasionally act as: shit (referee) mainly to calm their players or to stop fights.

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

For decades, these violent matches resulted in serious injuries, including numerous deaths. For a long time, to encourage spectators to bet money or property, bulls were released into the arena to add tension and violence.

The modern version of the calcio has not changed much from its historical roots. It still allows dangerous and violent strategies such as headbutts, thrusts, elbows, and chokeholds. However, 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 removal from the game.

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

An annual medieval festival

The Four Quarter TournamentTorneo dei Quattro Quartieric ) takes place once a year, the week of June 14 in Florence. On average, 10,000 people make the trip to come and watch this sports parade where violence becomes artistic and social rivalry unites around the unique Tuscan weapon. After the opening matches, the two overall winners will advance to the annual final on June 24, the feast of San Giovanni (Saint John), the patron saint of Florence.

The boroughs collide during this medieval festival celebrating Florence’s rich culture and vast history: Bianchi (“the whites”) of Santo Spirito, the Azzurri (“the blues”) by Santa Croce, the Rossic (“the red”) of Santa Maria Novella, and the Verdi (“the greens”) of San Giovanni. The matches will be played in Piazza Santa Croce, the main square of the city, covered for the occasion with sand to imitate the decorum of an old bullring. The players are dressed in medieval costumes to portray their roles as modern-day gladiators. An Italian Proust madeleine in the cultural lair of La Botte.

  • Images from the 2022 final