NARRATIVE – The Azzurri of Santa Croce won the 2022 edition of the Calcio storico on Friday, in Florence, Italy. 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, was marked by the tribute paid to Davide Astori, defender of Fiorentina and Italian international who died in 2018. His brother Bruno was the guest of honor in the final , the “Magnifico Messere” appointed as tradition dictates: “It is difficult to describe the emotions of the experience lived yesterday in this square. To see with my own eyes an event that has retained its charm for over 500 years and to be able to watch it from the privileged position you reserved for Davide was truly an honor! A big thank you to Florence, on behalf of our whole family…” he wrote on his Instagram account.
The creation of the Calcio storico remains unclear but several sports activities already existed during the Roman Empire, during the ancient period. The legionnaires were already playing harpastone, practice which shares many points in common with the medieval and contemporary calcio of Florence, by its violent side without real rules. This sport, combining football, rugby and wrestling, was reserved for wealthy aristocrats and a certain Italian elite who played every evening 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 played in the 15th century as well, as a match was held on the frozen Arno river in 1490. In 1574, Henry III of France attended a meeting – held in his honor at a visit to 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”
“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 (full-backs), five sconciatori (half-backs), 15 corridori (attackers).
The captain’s and flag bearer’s tent is in the center of the cages. They do not actively participate in the game, but may give tactical instructions to their teams and occasionally act as poo (referees), mainly to calm down their players or to stop fights.
After facing off in two opening matches, the two overall winners advance to the annual final on June 24, the feast of San Giovanni (St. John), Florence’s patron saint.
For decades, these violent matches resulted in serious injuries, including numerous deaths. For a long time, in order to encourage spectators to wager money or property, bulls were let loose in the arena to add suspense 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, punches, elbow strikes 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 infraction results in expulsion from the game.
An annual medieval festival
The Four Quarters Tournament (Torneo dei Quattro Quartieri ) takes place once a year, the week of June 14 in Florence. An average of 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 coat of arms. After the opening matches, the two overall winners advance to the annual final on June 24, the feast of San Giovanni (St. John), Florence’s patron saint.
The city’s districts clash during this medieval festival in honor of Florence’s rich culture and vast history: Bianchi (“the whites”) of Santo Spirito, the Azzurri (“the blues”) of Santa Croce, the Rossi (“the reds”) of Santa Maria Novella, and the Verdi (“the greens”) of San Giovanni. The matches are played in piazza Santa Croce, the city’s large main square, covered with sand for the occasion to imitate the decorum of an ancient arena. The players are dressed in medieval costumes to portray their role as contemporary gladiators. An Italian-style Proust madeleine in the cultural lair of La Botte.
- Images of the 2022 final