Calcio Storico in Florence, Italy

Location:

For anyone heading off to Florence, Italy towards the end of June, don’t miss the Calcio Storico (historical football) match. It has been compared to Greco-Roman wrestling and rugby with a hint of football or soccer. Even if you’re not really into sports, this is a spectacle like you’ve never seen.

Historical and Modern Gladiators

Strictly a Florentine sport, it’s akin to a rugby match on steroids filled with all the blood, sweat, and tears you would expect from this event. It’s awesome! Set in the Piazza Santa Croce, the square is transformed into a sand-filled mini-stadium for the event. That’s right, sand and old concrete and a pile of pumped-up footballers letting loose in the Renaissance city.

History

Prior to the start of the match, a beautiful pageant takes place with the players in colors representing their neighborhood. Flag bearers, drummers, horsemen, foot soldiers in armor, and prominent figures of the city, participate in a procession winding its way through the city ahead of the contest. It’s an event of pageantry and brutality with a picturesque backdrop. All are dressed in Renaissance attire, making you feel transported back to the 16th century. The entrance of the procession with drummers and trumpeters blazing away is like no other.  

Green, Blue, Red, White

calcio storico sporting event in Florence, Italy
Calcio Storico/ photo by Lorenzo Noccioli

The teams consist of four teams, White (Bianchi), Green, (Verdi), Blue, (Azzuri) and Red (Rossi) representing different neighborhoods of Florence. Their uniforms are a display of their neighborhood colors outfitted with striped, balloon-style pants. Some may wear a shirt but most don’t or they’re torn off during the match. 

What’s the prize for winning? It used to be, Bistecche, or beef steaks. Now, they get a hearty meal at the end of it all. They also get the notoriety of being the badass team of the Calcio Storico.

Athletes are not paid. That’s not the point of the event. The point is to keep this century’s old tradition alive. If only American athletes could be so easily pleased.  

Spanning hundreds of years, the sport shocked kings and evolved into one which allowed choking, punching, elbowing, kicking, head-butting, you name it. I almost think the referees are there for show. Some of the formerly acceptable offenses are now off-limits. However, it’s hard to tell what a penalty is in the chaos. But hey…why question tradition? 

Bruto e Bella (Brutal and Beautiful)

There’s no other way to put this other than to say this is just an all-out ass-whipping! That’s why the event is so interesting and entertaining. It’s difficult to ignore the juxtaposition of the home to The Birth of Venus in the same city as a near gladiator sport. I love balance. I loved being introduced to this tradition taking place the same time I was on holiday. I’ve been suggesting it to travelers ever since. If you have a weak stomach or don’t like the sporting aspect, go for the procession and absorb this Florentine tradition and the entire scene. It’s truly special.

Tickets

The best way to get tickets to the Calcio Storico is through the local ticket office or hotel concierges in Florence. Tickets usually go on sale early in June and go quickly. It’s a hot ticket in the summer just as the Palio is to Sienna so it’s something to jump on right away. Like anything else, it might be a challenge to get tickets but the Calcio Storico in Florence, Italy is well worth the effort.

When:  The final takes place June 24 every year-in coordination with the celebration of St. John the Baptist. If you won’t be there for the final, check on current dates for the play-off matches prior to the final, earlier in the month. 

Where: Piazza Santa Croce 

 Ciao!