The Battle of the Oranges is a staple of the annual Carnival of Ivrea, which is running from March 3 to 5 this year.

Dating back to 1808, the carnival is one of the oldest in the Belpaese, and – much like any other Italian festival – features a range of traditional re-enactments, parades and activities.

The epic food fight, which traditionally ends on Shrove Tuesday, has been a festival highlight each and every year.

While the event’s exact origins are somewhat unclear, legend has it that it commemorates the town’s defiance in 1194, against a tyrant who attempted to rape a local miller’s daughter on the eve of her wedding.

In response, the young girl – known as Violetta – decapitated the tyrant, carted his severed head around the town and ignited a popular revolt.

She and her fellow peasants stormed the tyrant’s palace and burnt it to the ground.

Each year, a young girl is chosen to play the part of Violetta, while thousands of locals make up squads of aranceri, or “orange throwers”, who are divided into two categories: those on foot who represent the commoners, and those in carts who represent the tyrant’s Napoleonic army.

Those representing the commoners are divided into nine groups:

  • Aranceri Asso di Picche (Ace of Spades): red and blue jersey with black neck scarf. Their symbol is a single spade and their home ground is the main town square which they share with the second oldest throwing team. Created in 1947.
  • Aranceri della Morte (Death’s Aranceri): black jersey, red pants. Their symbol is a white skull. Created in 1954.
  • Aranceri Tuchini del Borghetto (Revolutionaries of the Borough): green jersey, red pants and a black crow in a white field on the back. Created in 1964.
  • Aranceri degli Scacchi (The Chess): chequered black and white jersey with an orange tower as their symbol. Created in 1964.
  • Aranceri Pantera Nera (Black Panther): black jersey with a black panther on a yellow field on the back. Created in 1965.
  • Aranceri Scorpioni d’Arduino (Arduino’s Scorpions): yellow jersey, green pants and a black scorpion as their symbol. Created in 1966.
  • Aranceri Diavoli (The Devils): red and yellow jersey with a red devil. Created in 1973.
  • Aranceri Mercenari (The Mercenaries): maroon jersey, yellow pants. Their symbol is a yellow star with maroon swords. Created in 1974.
  • Aranceri Credendari: blue jersey and yellow pants, the Palazzo della Credenza (Palace of Credence) and the town arms as their symbol. Created in 1985.

The thousands of participants wear protective helmets and padding during the fruity onslaught.

In earlier editions of the food fight, beans were thrown, then apples.

Oranges became the locals’ weapon of choice in the 19th century, and are imported from Sicily for the event each year.

The calm after the citrus storm. (Photo: ANSA)

The oranges are thrown with considerable force during the battle, but not to worry: if you don’t fancy getting pelted with citrus fruits, you can participate as a bystander.

Spectators wear red hats, which indicates that they are off limits and aren’t allowed to throw any oranges themselves.

Bystanders can hide behind the nets that are draped around the town’s buildings, while those more adventurous spectators can simply stay on the battlefield throughout the whole ordeal.

If you opt for the latter, be prepared to be hit by rogue oranges or juicy “splashback”.

The food fight is followed by a traditional procession through the streets, at the end of which the carnival’s “General” says goodbye to everyone with the classical phrase in dialect arvedse a giobia a ‘n bot, translated as “we’ll see each other on Thursday at one”, referring to the next edition of the carnival.