February 23, 2009 / 1:37 PM / 10 years ago

Battle of oranges unleashes Italy's Carnival spirit

IVREA, Italy (Reuters Life!) - Once a year the reserved people of Italy’s Piedmont region at the foot of the Alps follow the advice of an old Latin adage and go a bit mad.

Participants launch oranges at rival teams during an annual Carnival battle in the northern Italian town of Ivrea February 22, 2009. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

Solid evidence that “Semel in anno licet insanire” is an edict the Piedmontese take seriously can be found on the streets of Ivrea — a town near the northwestern city of Turin — during the last three days of Carnival.

Teams dressed in brightly colored costumes wage a fierce orange-throwing battle that leave the cobbled streets of Ivrea covered in a thick carpet of mashed orange pulp.

Bystanders are encouraged to wear a red cap to avoid being targeted by the “aranceri” (orange-throwers).

But it might still be difficult to dodge the oranges altogether when hundreds are flying everywhere as aranceri on foot battle their rivals standing on carts drawn by horses.

Even when taking shelter behind the large fishing nets stretched in front of buildings, it is impossible for spectators to avoid getting splattered by pulp and juice.

Some 6,000 people are divided into nine teams. Participants range in age from young children to veterans like Basilio Mobolo, who threw his first oranges at age 11 in 1964.

Some enrol at an even younger age.

“I should not say it aloud but I don’t even remember when I started: I must have been about five,” said 26-year-old farmer Daniele Vota. “I guess it can be a little dangerous for children, but then Carnival is Carnival. And if you are born here you’ve got it in your blood.”

About 180 people were treated for minor bruises on Sunday, the first of three days of orange-pelting, according to the event’s organizers.

Last year’s battle sent four to five people to hospital, said Franca Piscitelli of the Red Cross.

“For the local people, a black eye is something to be proud of,” she added.

Two legends account for the origins of Carnival celebrations in this Piedmont town best known for being the base for Olivetti, once a major industrial company whose typewriters feature in exhibits of Italian design.

Oranges replaced beans in the Carnival battle in the middle of the 19th century.

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One legend says poor people in the Middle Age would throw beans into the streets to show their feelings of resentment toward their feudal lord.

A more dramatic tale tells of Violetta, the proud daughter of a miller and symbol of Ivrea’s Carnival, who was bound by feudal laws to spend her wedding night with a local marquis. To save her honor for her betrothed she chops off the head of the marquis and starts a popular revolt.

More than 200 years after the first Carnival, the fighting between people on the ground and those on the carts symbolizes the struggle among commoners and the tyrant’s henchmen.

Reporting by Valentina Za, editing by Paul Casciato

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