by Bear in Britain
Windsor, United Kingdom
November 5, 2002
The day breaks into four distinct pieces. First comes the parade of costumed participants through the streets. Then, the football match. Next, a remarkable display of flag waving in the Piazza Vecchio. Finally, lavish fireworks over the Arno.
The parade is an opening procession of hundreds of people in 15th century-costumes. The Piazza della Signoria is the best place to catch all the action. I positioned myself where the Via dei Calzaiuoli enters and had a remarkable view.
Participants represent the aristocratic families, military troops, members of ancient trade guilds, flag wavers, musicians, etc. The costumes are lavish and wildly colourful. And they are wonderfully authentic, down to the hand-made leather shoes and the heavy weapons. How they survived the day’s heat in all those layers, I’ll never know.
Near the end of the procession come the football teams. This is "calcio storico," historic football, and one look at the bruisers set to play banished any thought that it might be a polite game. It has been described to me as rugby without the rules. The players, 27 on each team, wear no padding or protection. In fact, they’re all stripped to Renaissance breeches and go bare-chested. They appeared to have indulged in a bit of liquid courage, and were clearly raring to tear each other apart. (Our hosts told us that a few rules had been imposed a couple of years ago when one player bit another’s ear off.
We didn’t actually see the match, which takes place in the square of Santa Croce, though you could hear it all over town. You have to buy tickets in advance for this, which we plan to do next year!
The procession away from the game stops in the Piazza della Signoria again to impress the crowd with a dazzling display of flag waving, tossing and throwing. Clearly, massive amounts of practice are needed for this precision sport.
Afterwards, some great bands entertained the crowds in the Piazza until nightfall, when a magnificent fireworks display went off above the Arno. This was our only miscalculation. The Florentines didn’t come out en masse during the day, but the town was throbbing at night. It was difficult to get a vantage point anywhere near the Arno. Next year, we’ll be hanging out on the Ponte Santa Trinita (from which you get the best view of the fireworks bursting above the Ponte Vecchio) from dusk.
From journal Tuscan Summers: Living "La Vita Buona"