The Battle of the Oranges: Fighting Tyranny With Citrus

Atlas Obscura
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Aug. 27 2014 1:03 PM

The Battle of the Oranges: Fighting Tyranny With Citrus

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Bad news: you've just missed La Tomatina, the Spanish tomato-throwing festival that takes place on the last Wednesday in August. Good news: there's plenty of time to plan for the Historical Carnival of Ivrea, an Italian festival in February that culminates in three days of relentless citrus-based combat.

During the Battle of the Oranges, the townspeople of Ivrea divide into nine squads, each with its own distinctive uniform. Supplied with crates of oranges, the teams stand in the main square and await the arrival of the enemy: carts full of orange throwers poised to strike. Then, the fruit flies.

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An important detail: the people on the carts are decked out in armor, including face-protecting helmets. Those on the street squads are not. It is not uncommon to see people stumbling out of the square with orange-induced injuries, such as black eyes, cuts, and the sting of citric acid in a wound.

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Photo: GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images

The origins of this food fight are a little murky, but the most popular explanation begins with an attempted rape, a vengeful decapitation, and a torched castle. In the Middle Ages—so the story goes—local vile tyrant Marquis Raineri di Biandrate visited a young woman named Violetta on the eve of her wedding, intending to cash in his droit du seigneur.

But Violetta fought back, producing a dagger and lopping off the tyrant's head. When the villagers saw her holding the head aloft toward them in triumph, they took the opportunity to unleash the anger wrought from years of oppression. They stormed the castle, burned it to the ground, and vowed to never submit to tyranny again.

A few centuries pass, yadda yadda yadda, and the throwing of oranges to simulate the defeat of the tyrant becomes a yearly tradition, complete with rules for participants and guidelines for spectators. (Don't throw an orange at a horse; wear a red floppy cap if you don't want to get hit; no strollers.)

The next Battle of the Oranges takes place on the three days preceding Mardi Gras (February 15-17) in Ivrea, just north of Turin.

139318287-member-of-a-team-walks-over-oranges-during-the

Photo: GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images

139318076-teams-throw-oranges-at-each-other-during-the

Photo: GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images

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