Calcio fiorentino is not a sport for the nice and gentle. It derives from “harpastum”: fighting over a rag ball, which was the training of choice for Roman legionnaires –it's an early - and very violent - form of football
Giovanni de' Bardi published the rules of the game, Calcio Fiorentino in 1580, which is played on a field of sand by 27 players allowed to use feet and hands to play the ball. There are almost no rules and things can get very bloody and heated.
On June 24th each year, Florence's main square turns into an arena for a sport which is a brutal combination of rugby, football, and wrestling. The Locals explore the history of the unique tradition.
Calcio Storico is not just a sporting event but a celebration of Florence, and the day begins with a medieval pageant. Marching bands and costumed people, including Calcio Storico players from each of the four teams, make their way through the city's streets on the way to Piazza Santa Croce. and was very popular several centuries ago.
Four teams participate in the tournament originating from each of the traditional city districts: Blue for St. Croce, Green for St. Giovanni, Red for St. Maria Novella, and White for St. Spirito. All of the players are dressed in medieval breeches, and are supported by their die-hard local fans. Two teams of 27 players take part in the matches which last for 50 minutes. No substitutions are allowed, even if there are injuries - which there often are. The ball is thrown into the centre of the pitch, and the teams descend on it in an effort to gain possession and kick it over a fence at the opposing team's end of the field.
So is it dangerous? Yes. While there have been no deaths during the game in modern times, there have been numerous cases of players hospitalized, sometimes for months.
City authorities in 2007 banned the match for a year after a brawl which saw around 50 players (that's almost all of them) taken to court. After that, new rules banned convicted criminals from taking part.
It’s obviously an exciting and fun sports event. The objective is to get the ball in the opponent team’s goal, following some very detailed rules and sometimes bending those rules, or breaking them with a good dose of physical vigor.
Watching a calcio fiorentino game, it’s hard to believe that some very refined gentlemen and even future popes, like Clement VII, Leo XI and Urban VIII – once enjoyed this sport.
But it’s true and it’s just one more example of how interesting and incredible the history of Florence has always been.