Cool morning air blows down from the Alpine mountains into Ivrea, in Piedmont, northern Italy and mingles with the scent of oranges, stacked in quiet street corners and squares ready for the city’s annual carnival, the Battaglia delle Arancie (Battle of the Oranges). It’s mid-February and time for the carnival, in which locals pelt each other oranges representing centuries of local history and the overthrow of oppressive rule.
Carnival is taken seriously in Italy, with villages, towns and cities across the country getting in on the celebrations. With its haunting masks, intrigues and beautiful backdrops Venice Carnival is perhaps the best known. Carnival is staged just just before the Christian period of Lent, usually starting in February and is all about excess, including using up food before the rigours of denial that shapes these 40 days leading up to Easter.
Ivera’s carnival is steeped in history, and food is one key aspect that brings the community together. Huge pots of beans cooked in giant pans with pork rind, pigs bones, lard, onions and cotechino sausages are prepared by each of the city’s districts and ceremoniously eaten early in the morning. Originally beans were thrown, then apples. Later, in the 19th century, oranges came to represent the stones thrown at the king’s castle in order to demolish it. Today the horse drawn carriages are described as representing a nobleman’s army while the Aranceri, the orange throwers, represent revolutionaries and the common people. There are nine teams on foot, each wearing colours and based in a particular section of the historic old centre of the city.
Tonnes of oranges are hurled between the opposing sides, and it’s easy to get swept up in the emotion and community spirit of event, a violent reenactment of a bloody period of history.
It’s an exhilarating, colourful spectacle and exciting to be a part of. Questions are raised every year about food waste, animal welfare, food waste and participants getting bloodied and injured by the thrown fruit. But they are never fully answered, and the carnival continues.
All images (c) The Lemon Grove 2020