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Welcome to the orange battle of Ivrea, let the chaos begin!

Orange battle of Ivrea, Italy

Drums and flutes, cheering and singing through the streets of Ivrea – this is the sound that everyone has been waiting for all year round. Crowds of thousands from all over the world take part in one of the most unique carnival festivals anywhere: the Orange Battle of Ivrea 

Symbolising the struggle of common people against tyranny, the Orange Battle is more than just a historical re-enactment, it’s a way of living for the people of Ivrea – literally all year round, a mix of tradition, pageantry and heaps of fun. 

I’m Daniel Evans, born and raised in this gem of a city at the foot of the alps. I’ve been going to carnival since I was a child, and I’d never want to miss a year. Believe me, it’s something special and you won’t grow tired of it. 

So what’s it all about?

Well, the Orange Battle itself is only a part of carnival. The battles are held over 3 days, (Sunday, Monday and Tuesday) , but the celebrations start on Thursday evening – Giovedì Grasso ,the last Thursday before Lent– with the town heaving with everyone in fancy dress. 

Historical figures from Napoleonic era are mixed and intertwined in the local legend of the miller’s daughter (Mugnaia) who beheaded the tyrant Baron during the Ius primae noctis (seedy tradition where the local lord had the right of the first night with newly wedded brides) leading to an uprising of the local population against the Barons men and the noble families. 

Thankfully these days, the battle is done with oranges and no-one is beheaded (usually).

Orange battle of Ivrea, Italy

Image source:Daniel Evans

Viva la Mugnaia!

Every year, the heroine Mugnaia is a different woman from the area. Who it is remains a mystery until Saturday evening when she is proclaimed. Not everyone has the chance to be Mugnaia, and being wealthy helps. She pays for quite a bit of the celebrations, including fireworks, meals and parties, and must attend events throughout the year. 

Lucky for her, she doesn’t get involved in the orange battle. The first battles start on Sunday afternoon and the last is on Tuesday with  tens of thousands of spectators.

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How do the locals live it?

Locals, on the other hand, live a different story indeed.

Fagioli grassi (baked beans) and warm vin brulè (mulled wine) is served for breakfast in the chilly mornings (if you’re not in a team you pay a small donation). This fills the Arancieri (orange fighters) with the spirit and energy needed for their quest: having their team win the orange battle.

There are 9 teams representing the commoners on the ground who battle the 52 horse drawn wagons of the nobles’ knights. Each team has its own set of colors and uniform and is located in a different square around town. The wagons with 8-10 knights run the circuit of all the squares battling down with the oranges. Usually two wagons battle in each square at a time. There are thousands of Aranceri on the ground concentrating their firepower (citrus power?) on a handful of knights. Wisely the knights wear full protective gear and padding.

IT’S A ROUGH GAME,  and the Arancieri wear their black eyes, bruised bodies and bleeding noses with pride.  Ivrea has one of the best ophthalmic hospital wards in northern Italy, because the thousands of Arancieri battling on foot, do not wear any protection whatsoever!!!

At the end of the carnival, the teams on the wagons vote for the best team on the ground. Anyone can sign up (children, adults, foreigners) to any team and battle on foot (cost varies from team to team, up to 120€ for three days). 

Orange battle of Ivrea, Italy

Image source:Daniel Evans

Tips for visitors

Anyone can watch the battle, but beware. Oranges hurt when they hit you at that sort of speed. People train all year round hitting the gym and working out specifically for the few days of the orange battle.

This shouldn’t be a deterrent to visit the squares during the battle. There is a surefire  way of not getting in harm’s way if you’re just a visitor – all you need to do is wear a red hat, best known as the cappello frigio (also worn by the Mugnaia).  But never get caught chucking oranges while wearing a hat. Nobody likes a cheat!

Also make sure you’re wearing gumboots as you will literally have to plough through the streets covered in 20-30 cm of orange mush – and what the horses leave!

Keep warm, drink some vin brulè, and try out the bombardino (typical carnival warm shot) or take a crunchy bite at the famous zuccherino (sugar cube soaked in alcohol with different flavours – orange is the best).

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What else is on during the carnival week?

Thursday night (Giovedì Grasso) is when it all starts. The whole town is closed to traffic and streets in the town center are turned into a massive fancy dress party attended by thousands of people. 

During the rest of the carnival week each Aranceri team organizes parties and concerts to build up the vibe and celebrations for this thrilling time of the year. Along with organized events there are always open-door parties and DJ sets outside bars and in private courtyards. You’ll need a few days to recover after, believe me!

Tuesday night is when the Scarlo is set alight. Huge bonfires are lit in each square, declaring the end of the year’s carnival. In the main square, the Mugnaia raises and holds up her (real) sword the entire time the bonfire burns until it’s out! Phew!

A procession of Napoleonic era soldiers drag their swords on the ground in a silent parade. The scraping sound is a sign of mourning for the inhabitants of Ivrea who are only left with the scent of oranges and the brilliant vibe Ivrea gives off during these days.

Orange battle of Ivrea, Italy

Image source:Daniel Evans

Something that stays with you forever… or at least until next time! Buon Carnevale.

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