Calcio Storico Fiorentino - Florentine historical football

Discover the most famous historical event in Florence!

The Calcio Storico Fiorentino is one of the most enjoyable events that take place in Tuscany. The month of June is a particularly interesting time to visit the city of Florence and watch the traditional football in Florence in Costume which ends on 24th June with the festival of the patron Saint John. On this day, as well as watching the final of the Florentine Football match when the two remaining Calcio Storico Fiorentino teams amongst the historical districts in Florence challenge each other, the city will be revealed to you in another amazing way. After dinner, at about 10pm, you will enjoy the spectacle of fireworks in honour of St John Baptist. It's not every day that there is the opportunity to admire the Ponte Vecchio illuminated by thousands of lights and colours!

Discover with us how the Florence, Italy historical football started, how it has changed over time and which are the Calcio Storico Fiorentino teams!

ORIGINS The Calcio Fiorentino history is an ancient game: since the 15th century an activity that combined today's sports such as football, rugby and, if desired, also wrestling was practiced in Florence! From these different disciplines the one that most distinguishes the Calcio Storico Florentino is, as the name already indicates, football. Many argue that the Calcio Florentino game in Florence is how the modern game arose, but as you will see, the Florentine football rules and the attitude are very different!

Calcio Storico Fiorentino

Before concentrating on Florence, it is useful to consider how the Calcio Florentine game, with the use of a spherical form object, came about. The first traces of this pastime exist in the Homeric poems. The ancient Greeks, in fact, dedicated themselves to sferomachia, using a ball to 'fight'. Also later the Romans, imitating the Greeks, began to train with the game called harpastum (taken from the Greek term, indicating the action of 'pulling strongly'). They discovered this 'sport' in the campaigns of conquest and spread it throughout the empire as a training phase necessary for gladiators and legionnaires. The difference with the Greek game consisted in the high level of competition among the participants, a feature that was already part of the Roman soldiers’ characters! Today, the historic Florentine soccer may seem at times violent, but it is nothing compared to the style of the ancient Latins!

The Roman ball was made of rags and leather, with high probability football was played in the sand and the ball was fought for through real wrestling. Like rugby, the Calcio Storio rules meant that the body had to defend the ball from opponents and clashes could be very hard.

Over the centuries, there have been numerous sources that testify to the presence of the Calcio Storico Fiorentino as early as the 15th century. The Florentines usually found themselves in the streets of the city or in the main squares starting matches like the ones you can see today during the re-enactment. The occupation of public spaces by young people was regulated, later, to avoid disturbances and problems in the organization of the city; in this way the squares became the officially designated places to play football. The balls were often handmade with the outside made of leather and the interior filled with rags or sometimes with animal bladders filled with air. Throughout the Medici age, what had been a popular pastime was reorganized and became a discipline practiced by the noble classes. Florence began to be the scene of numerous clashes between the people, often divided into teams, and headed by the most illustrious personalities of the Florentine families. The noble character gave rise to the term of Football in Livery, referring to the livery and elegant clothes worn by the soccer players.

The period designated for the games was generally that of Carnival; the famous game on 17th February 1530 in particular went down in history, when Florence was besieged by the army of Charles V. The Florentines, despite the seriousness of the situation, started nonetheless the Calcio Florentino game in Piazza Santa Croce!

During the 18th century, however, the historical Florentine soccer stopped being an institutionalized event and resumed its spontaneous form and as a popular game played in the neighbourhoods of the city. In addition to the character of challenge, which is still the soul of the most popular and practiced sports throughout the world, it is to be noted that these times also allowed a reversal of roles. As in Anglo-Saxon countries, football has always been an area of freedom in which social distinctions could be temporarily demolished and where personal values were often defended. The Calcio Storico Fiorentino players could, therefore, take revenge on those nobles who lived the game as an aesthetic moment in which to show off their precious clothes thereby losing the recreational and authentic aspect from which this street sport was born. The citizens of the aristocratic families, in fact, organized the games in the most important parts of Florence and added that a procession in honour of the race. Residents were invited to attend as spectators to watch from the stands built around the city square. It is clear that the day of the game had a strong political significance, which was reiterated in the social roles between the noble players. Football in livery was a display of elegance and rituals that had little to do with spontaneous appointments among young people of the neighbourhoods purely seeking fun and entertainment.

More recently, in the 20th century the Calcio Fiorentino game was played on 4th May 1930 with the purpose of remembering the siege of Florence more than four hundred years before. The fascist ruler Alessandro Pavolini, at the height of the propaganda, decided to organize an official tournament between the main districts of the city and set up a costume parade. Since then, the Calcio Storico Fiorentino has kept the form of a historical event amongst the most important ones of the city and region.

THE COMMEMORATION TO THE PRESENT When is the Calcio Storico in Florence? Every year, the month of June has been chosen to celebrate the Calcio Fiorentino history. Although the start date can vary, the final is set for 24th June on the festival of St John. You just have to watch a Florence historical soccer game to understand the reason for such enthusiasm by the Florentines and the value of this event! If you choose to take part in the final, a busy day ahead is to be expected: a parade in historical costumes through the historic centre of Piazza Santa Maria Novella to arrive in Piazza Santa Croce. All the districts of the Calcio Storico Fiorentino participate in the parade although the final only includes two teams. Usually the show starts around four o'clock, an hour before the actual start of the match. Follow the procession and try to identify, among the costumed characters, who is taking part! It is not that difficult ...

At this point, we try to figure out how this event is played and above all .... what are the Calcio Storico teams? There are four teams which represent the historic districts of the city: the Whites of Santo Spirito, the Azzurri of Santa Croce, the Reds of Santa Maria Novella and the Greens of St Giovanni. Players compete through a total of three matches, two semi-finals and a final which decrees the district winner. To determine which team plays in the semi-finals against another there is a draw on Easter Sunday with the coloured balls. The playing field is set up in Piazza Santa Croce (as was the case for the traditional Florentine football game since the 15th century) the same dusty ground of the Renaissance is recreated, surrounded by grandstands for spectators, the only modern elements of the re-enactment!

Of course, as in any sport, even in the Calcio Storico Fiorentino, rules abound and have to be respected. The first was written by the noble Giovanni de’ Bardi in the late 16th century: each team must have twenty-players, both hands and feet can be used, the game is played by kicking the ball in a chosen place within the field. Besides the players, other key figures are the referee, the six linesmen and the Commissioner Referee who remains outside the field. The key figure in the historical soccer in Florence in Costume is the Master of Field: it is his responsibility to maintain discipline during accidents and fights that represent moments when the game is stopped.

HOW LONG DOES THE FLORENCE HISTORIC FOOTBALL MATCH LAST Each match lasts fifty minutes and the team to reach the highest number of hunts (points) at the end of the game wins. The rectangle field is twice as long as its width (100x50), covered with sand and a white line dividing the field into two equal parts. The whole perimeter of the bottom side is surrounded by a network in which the ball must end every time. There are 27 players per team for the historic Florentine football and no substitutions during the game can be made. The players are divided into four goalkeepers, three fullbacks, five midfielders and fifteen attackers which shows where modern football comes from! Each team is led by the strategies and the external looks of the Captain and the Forerunner, who follow the game from their tent. The role of these outside people is also vital to manage and calm people and the conflicts that are formed between players of opposing teams! It is worth noting that in the historic Calcio Fiorentino fights and violence is not a rare thing!

The game begins with the first roll of the ball in the middle of the field performed by pallaio and then with the sound of colubrine (small cannons), the great Florence historic football challenge begins.

Players try in every way and with all their might to seize the ball and bring it to the end of the opponent field to score a caccia (goal) in the net! For each marked point the teams change sides. During the fifty minutes you have to determine who has achieved the highest number of hunts, becoming the undisputed winner of Costume football in Florence for that year.

The trophy to be won consists of a Chianina pure breed calf! Could there be anything better for somebody from Tuscany?

CITY TRADITION AND VALUES OF THE GAME The costumes you see worn by various characters (about 530) during the procession of the Calcio Storico Fiorentino are from the 16th century and this represents a precise choice. In fact, as detailed before, the event in 1530 during the siege of the Emperor Charles V in Florence left an indelible mark on the tradition, with the memory of the stubbornness of the Florentines against the oppressor. The Costume football in Florence match recalls this demonstration of freedom and independence that was declared thanks to the game in Piazza Santa Croce. Often in dramatic moments, the inhabitants of a city gather in a common area and find the strength to carry on through the lightness of a temporary enjoyment, or a game.

Recently, there has also been a Calcio Storico Fiorentino female team! Since 2011, some organizers of the event have decided to also allow young female players to join this old sporting tradition of Florence. Despite the criticism, what looked like an absurd and unthinkable initiative has turned into a reality full of enthusiasm. There are only two female Calcio Stoico Fiorentino teams for now, a group belongs to the red part and the other to the white part of the Calcio Storico Fiorentino. Training takes place on sandy soil and, despite some differences, it still requires great physical effort and, given the nature of the game, preparation for various mishaps!

Among the important Calcio Fiorentino rules it is interesting that the Costume football in Florence features a Moral Code of Footballer, which recalls the codes of chivalry of the Middle Ages. The basic principles of this Regulation are Virtue, Honour, Respect, Courage, Loyalty, Truth, Trust, Clemency and Consideration. The last of these has, perhaps, a less direct and known significance than the others: Consideration is to be understood as a 'reputation' or self-esteem. The players must be conscious of their role and worthy of enjoying the esteem of others. Conversely, he/she must be able to consider the other players giving them the same respect as for one selves, looking for a balance between the competitive aspect of the game and a respectful behaviour.

Are you now interested? At we recommend you watch one of the Calcio Storico Fiorentino matches and live this historical event as a pleasant interlude to your holiday and as an opportunity to rethink what sport means, going beyond just a simple race!

By Insidecom Editorial Staff