A Throwback in History
Once upon a time the small town of Ivrea came under the rule of mighty lords who oppressed its citizens over the course of many consecutive years.
Whilst most lords mainly applied strict tax regulations, the Marquis of Monferrato decided to impose a totally different law. According to his “jus primae noctis” order, he had the right to sleep with all the brides of Ivrea on their wedding night…
Legend has it that Violetta, the Miller’s daughter and also known as Mugnaia, seemed determined to fight against this. On her wedding day she deliberately hid a knife under her wedding dress and waited for the Marquis’ call. When she was left alone with him, Violetta did not hesitate a minute to cut his head off. Straight after, she went through the balcony door and displayed Marquis’ head to the crowd!
Through her act Mugnaia triggered the citizens’ rebellion and ever since she became the heroine of the town.
Symbolism and Tradition
Ivrea’s Carnival is an event full of symbolism and tradition; a beautiful blend of legend and history. As such, the famous Battle of the Oranges is a re-enactment of this historic uprising. Mugnaia on the other hand, as the main character of the carnival itself, symbolizes freedom.
Dressed up in a white dress (representing purity), Mugnaia wears as her only accessory a red “berretto frigio” (liberty cap). The berretto frigio looks like a long red sock, usually pinned on the one side using a silver brooch. During Carnival, and especially on the days that the Battle of the Oranges takes place, the berretto is absolutely essential. It signifies your support to the historic rebellion and without it you are immediately an open target for the orange throwers!
Every year, there is selection of a different Mugnaia among the married ladies of Ivrea. Her identity, however, remains secret until the Saturday evening prior to the Carnival Sunday. On that day, she is officially presented to everyone from the balcony of the Town Hall.
When parading through the town, Mugnaia is sitting in a Golden Carriage as a clear symbol of victory. The crowd cheers her on while passing by and she -in return- is showering them with flowers, candies and chocolates!
The ladies who have the honor of being selected as Mugnaia, remain Mugnaia forever!
From Beans to Oranges...
The citizens of Ivrea had to live in poverty for many years. As a gesture of pitiness the lords offered them a handful of free beans twice per year. But the people would proudly throw the beans back on the streets, showing their discontempt towards them.
In order to commemorate this act, during Carnival, people were throwing beans from the balconies of the old town. Years later oranges replaced the beans, serving a totally different purpose! The young ladies sitting on their balconies would intentionally aim at the men they fancied the most from the passersby! The men would then throw the oranges back to the ladies, as part of the game.
Year by year, the orange throwing gradually developed into a duel between throwers on the balconies and throwers on the streets! Shortly after the World War II, the orange throwers started to form teams giving life to the Battle of the Oranges as we all know it today.
The Battle of the Oranges
The Battle of the Oranges is a food fight with two main actors: From the one hand soldiers in full armour riding horse-drawn carriages representing the military force of the rulers. And on the other hand, 9 teams fighting on foot without any helmets or protective clothing.
Each team has reserved a designated area within the old town (battleground) for their fight.
- The Ace of Spades: Town Square
- The Death: Town Square
- The Tuchini (Revolutionaries): Borghetto
- The Chessmen: Piazza Ottinetti
- The Arduino’s Scorpions: Piazza Ottinetti
- The Black Panthers: Piazza del Rondolino
- The Devils: Piazza del Rondolino
- The Mercenaries: Piazza del Rondolino
- The Credendari: Piazza Freguglia
The battle lasts for 3 consecutive days, with orange throwers following unwritten rules to adhere safety amongst them. At the end of the third day, the announcement of the best fighting team takes place. The winner is the team that has demonstrated the faster and stronger throwing skills, while maintaining the fair play.
The fight using oranges is fun, but it can also be harsh, causing bleeding or even black eyes! However, it is no one’s intention to hurt one another. On the contrary, you will often see rivals shaking hands at the end of each round. In this way, they show their respect for their opponent’s skills and performance.
Visitors can actively participate in the Battle of the Oranges by joining one of the orange throwing teams. Unofficially, you can throw one or two oranges but expect to be hit, as well, mostly accidentally!
The closing of the Carnival of Ivrea takes place on Tuesday evening with the torching of the Scarlo. The Scarlo is a long pole covered in heather and juniper, with the Italian flag on its top. Burning the Scarlo symbolizes the death of the old and the birth of the new. As such it is a clear sign of hope…
You can get to Ivrea from:
- Torino (Direct Train / Travel Duration: 1 hour / Cost: 5,90€)
- Milan (Changing Trains at Chivasso / Total Travel Duration: 2h 20′ / Cost: 12,45€)
The Battle of the Oranges starts on Carnival Sunday and continues on until Tuesday.
On Carnival Sunday you will need to buy a ticket for entering the Old Town (Cost: 10€). However, if you have registered in one of the 9 orange throwing teams, entrance and participation in the Battle of the Oranges is free of charge.
No ticket is required for attending and participating in the Battle of Oranges on Monday and Tuesday.
The “berreto frigio” will cost you another 5€.