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In Ivrea, townspeople in medieval attire are pelting each other with 30 tons of oranges.

Max Bonem
February 27, 2017

This week, the streets of Ivrea in Northern Italy will be splattered orange as the country’s largest food fight takes over the town. Held during the annual Carnevale di Ivrea that leads up to Ash Wednesday, the Battle of Oranges honors a local tradition of throwing oranges at people as part of a symbolic display of anarchy.

The yearly three-day event dates back to 1858 and commemorates the legend of a defiant young woman named Violetta, who rejected the advances of an oppressive 12th century feudalist lord. As the story goes, the lord noticed the young miller’s daughter and invoked droit du seigneur, his then right to engage with a woman before her marriage. After being taken to his palace on her wedding night, Violetta denied his desires and, depending on who is telling the tale, either beheaded the lord or cut off another area of his body that is now represented by the oranges themselves. After the death of the lord, the townspeople stormed his palace in revolt. The Battle of Oranges commemorates this event each year.

Per tradition, every year a young woman is chosen from the town to represent the spirit of Violetta and then teams are divided up along common and royal lines. Although helmets and masks aren’t required for participants, with roughly 30 tons of oranges shipped in from Sicily to Ivrea each year for the festivities, they are definitely encouraged. After three days of pulpy carnage, one of the generals of the teams calls a ceasefire, and the event is followed by a massive funeral on Fat Tuesday.

Ivreans expect upwards of 20,000 participants for this year’s battle with tens of thousands of onlookers on hand as the event has become a major tourist draw. Luckily, non-participants can avoid becoming targets by wearing one of the signature red floppy hats found throughout the town that denotes you as a spectator, rather than a combatant. Regardless, if you hear anyone yell "arancia," make sure you're ready to duck and cover.