Battle of oranges makes a splash in Italian town

Townspeople dress up in mediaeval attire and throw oranges at the "royal guards" during an annual carnival recreating a centuries-old revolt by commoners against the monarchy in Ivrea, Italy, on Sunday.
Townspeople dress up in mediaeval attire and throw oranges at the "royal guards" during an annual carnival recreating a centuries-old revolt by commoners against the monarchy in Ivrea, Italy, on Sunday.PHOTO: REUTERS

IVREA, Italy • Thousands of people poured onto the cobblestone streets of a northern Italian town to throw oranges at a makeshift monarchy, a tradition dating back more than 150 years.

The juicy battle in Ivrea on Sunday was part of the town's yearly carnival, which recreates a centuries-old revolt by commoners against the monarchy.

"It's madness," local resident Francesca said. "Some may think these people are crazy but for us in Ivrea, this is something we have in our DNA."

According to the battle's official website, the orange fight has existed in one form or another since 1858. Huge crowds flock to the event annually, though the legend behind the actual insurrection is a bit murky.

As the most commonly told story would have it, a 12th-century miller's daughter fought back against an evil baron when he came to her on the eve of her wedding to exercise his "jus primae noctis" - a reference to mediaeval lords having the supposed right to have sexual relations with subordinate women.

Instead, the bride cut off the baron's head and paraded it all over town, sparking the uprising.

Today, that revolt is recreated with townspeople in mediaeval attire battling teams of the tyrant's guards in period dress.

The townspeople throw oranges at the guards, who fight back from carts drawn by masked horses.

Crates of oranges are tightly stacked one over the other stand on the sidewalks, and some spectators take refuge to avoid being hit by wayward pulp. Wearing a red floppy hat marks you as a spectator and safe from flying fruit.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2017, with the headline 'Battle of oranges makes a splash in Italian town'. Print Edition | Subscribe