The Battle of the Oranges – Italy’s Biggest Food Fight

If you will be visiting the ancient town of Ivrea, Italy on the weekend of February 14-17th, watch out. You just might be pelted by a flying orange as the biggest food fight in Italy takes place – the Battle of the Oranges.

Every year this tiny town in northern Italy stocks up with 500,000 kg of fresh oranges so that they can conduct a citrus version of a historic fight between a ruling tyrant and the local townspeople. Everyone divides into teams and they wage a fruit war, hurtling the juicy produce at each other while wearing traditional garments.

Battle of the Oranges Italy:
Photo Lupo CC 2.5

This is a serious event, with nearly 100,000 spectators every year and nine competitive teams of almost 4,000 people. It is the highlight and the biggest event of the year in the town. The festival always takes place on the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday right before Ash Wednesday, beginning on Sunday at 2pm. At the end of the festival, awards will be given for the best teams in the Battle of the Oranges Italy Festival.

The Battle of the Oranges Italy
photo credit:Nevertime cc

The Story Behind the Battle of the Oranges Italy

According to the legend, at some point between the 12th and 13th centuries the lord of Ivrea attempted to rape the daughter of a local miller on the night before her wedding. This was his right as a lord to take the virginity of the daughters of the kingdom’s serfs, but the tough and rebellious young bride decapitated him. This started a battle in which townspeople fought against the henchmen of the lord.

The fight is re-enacted with the followers of the lord dressed in jester’s outfits and riding in carts and the commoners dressed in uniforms and on foot. A local woman is chosen to represent the miller’s daughter, Violetta, and she is dressed in white and throws yellow flowers to the crowd.

So why oranges? One of the historic theories is that the oranges represent the lopped-off head of the lord who Violetta resisted. Another theory is that oranges represented courtship, as girls would traditionally drop oranges from their balconies to the boys they were interested in below. If the boys liked them too, they would give them back an orange.

The Battle of the Oranges Italy
photo credit:Lollodj cc

The Burning of the Scarlo

Another important part of the Battle of the Oranges Italy festival is the burning of the scarlo. The woman who represents Violetta will watch over a scarlo, which is a pole with heather and juniper bushes that has been set alight. If the scarlo burns quickly, this is a sign that the town will enjoy a good year ahead. A scarlo that burns slowly is a sign of bad luck for the coming year.

Taking Part in the Battle of Oranges Festival

Although technically as a visitor you will not be part of the competing teams, there is nothing to stop you from jumping into the fray and throwing a few oranges of your own. However, be aware that you might end up with a few bruises from being hit by flying fruit!

if you’re travelling there for the festival, make sure you prebook your accommodation!

About Kelly Dunning


A Canadian freelance writer with a love of art, culture, literature and adventure, Kelly loves exploring foreign lands and expressing her experiences through the power of the written word. She and her English boyfriend Lee run, packed full with travel guides, stories and inspiration for those who dream of travel. They have been location independent and travelling the world digital-nomad style for the last three years, with no address, no car and no fixed schedule.

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