by Laura Tressel
On any given day in Florence, you can find young boys kicking a ball around, playing football (calcio) in their spare time. The radio stations and tv play constant coverage of any and all football related news. A social meeting is rarely complete without an analysis of Fiorentina's most recent game. All of these things are part of the normal, everyday life of Florentines. However, on June 24, a different sporting event takes the spotlight.
This is the day of Festa di San Giovanni, when the city celebrates St. John the Baptist, its patron saint. It is a city-wide holiday, which means many residents get the day off from work and can instead focus all their energy on the festivities. In the morning there is a traditional parade through the city, followed by a mass held at the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, commonly known as il Duomo. The main sporting event happens later in the afternoon, in Piazza Santa Croce. Right now, the square is being transformed from its usual grey cobblestone expanse. Bleachers are being built, and soon the inside square will be filled with sand which forms the playing field for Calcio Storico.
This event has its origins in ancient Greek and Roman games, and was molded to a more refined version during the 15th and 16th centuries. It is a slightly gruesome sport that allows almost all physical contact, including punching, kicking, and choking. Both teams pass a ball between players, attempting to get it across the goal line on the opposite side of the field. Whoever scows the most goals in a period of 50 minutes is declared the winner.
Besides being an exciting and brutish game for both the players and audience, Calcio Storico brings to life the vibrant historical culture of Florence. The players dress up in colorful costumes which represent their team, one of the four quarters of the city. The Blue team (Azzuri) is from Santa Croce, Red (Rossi) from Santa Maria Novella, White (Bianchi) from Santo Spirito, and Green (Verdi) from San Giovanni. The teams fight to win the title for their quarter. The festival also involves musicians and flag bearers, all in costume of course.
At night, the sky above Florence will explode with color as fireworks are set off in celebration. The beauty of the lights and the city's monuments reflect in on the surface of the Arno river. The city will be alive and the people filled with pride for their history. Florentine people take a lot of pride in the accomplishments and traditions of their home. Festa di San Giovanni is a day to fully soak in this spirit and to appreciate the great richness of its history.
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