Earlier this week’ on the Blue Danube European blog, we looked at an event in Spain, la Tomatina. This is a fiesta involving a street ‘fight’ where tons of ripe tomatoes play the leading role… La Tomatina brings tens of thousands of foreign participants to Spain every year and is now an international event.
Sadly, the tourist dollar does have the effect of ‘muddying’ the water (or tomato juice) of local culture for bad or good and la Tomatina is now regarded by cynics as just another way of attracting visitors to a poor area of Spain. For those of you who thrive on authentic festivals, let’s look at a lesser known but similar event which takes place every year in the small Italian town of Ivrea in Northern Italy. The idea is similar, the colour orange instead of red, but the whole thing does feel more spontaneous and authentic!
To celebrate the untimely death of an unpopular, violent, money-grabbing Duke who raped a young village girl on the eve of her wedding (exercising his droit de seigneur), the townspeople celebrate each year with an anarchic, lighthearted, boisterous four day festival of music, wine, fireworks, dancing, food, more wine, processions and, you guessed it, even more wine and thousands of oranges. Every year a local girl is elected to play the role of Violetta, the violated (excuse the atrocious pun) young lady in question. While la Tomatina in Spain is restricted to squashy over-ripe tomatoes which don’t really involve black eyes and bruising, Ivrea is really only for the hardcore masochist. Oranges are hard and they hurt!
Spectators, unlike Spain, are reasonably well protected from the mayhem by safety nets but do make sure that you sport a red hat to demonstrate your ‘neutral’ status.
In the ‘battle’, groups of of “Aranceri” (orange throwers) on foot hurl oranges (representing stones) at other Aranceri riding in carts (representing the Duke’s soldiers).
Ending on Shrove Tuesday with a solemn funeral procession, the festival closes with “arvedse a giobia a ‘n bot“, (“we’ll see one other on Thursday at one”) ie. next year, same time, same place.
Originally beans were thrown instead of oranges. Later apples were the prime choice of ammunition. Nobody can explain why oranges were first used as they do not grow in Northern Italy and the village needs to import over a quarter of a ton each year from Sicily.