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A scene from the Battle of the Oranges

The Battle of the Oranges is a carnival and festival in the Northern Italian city of Ivrea, which includes a tradition of throwing of oranges between organized groups. It is the largest food fight in Italy.[1]


History of festival

Stockpile of ammunition for the upcoming battle

The festival's origins are somewhat unclear. A popular account has it that it commemorates the city's defiance against the city's tyrant, who is either a member of the Raineri family[2] or a conflation of the 12th-century Raineri di Biandrate and the 13th-century Marquis William VII of Montferrat.[3] This tyrant attempted to rape a young commoner (often specified as a miller's daughter[4]) on the eve of her wedding, supposedly exercising the (fictional) droit de seigneur. His plan backfired when the young woman instead decapitated the tyrant, after which the populace stormed and burned the palace.[5] Each year, a young girl is chosen to play the part of Violetta, the defiant young woman.[1][6]

Every year the citizens remember their liberation with the Battle of the Oranges where teams of "Aranceri" (orange handlers) on foot throw oranges (representing ancient arrows and stones) against Aranceri riding in carts, representing Arduino's allies. During the 19th-century French occupation of Italy the Carnival of Ivrea was modified to add representatives of the French army who help the miller's wife.

The carnival may have started in the 12th century and also includes a large bonfire.[7]


A carriage pulled by four horses that will be used in the battle

The core celebration is based on a locally famous Battle of the Oranges that involves some thousands of townspeople, divided into nine combat teams, who throw oranges at each other – with considerable violence – during the traditional carnival days: Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. The carnival takes place in February: it ends on the night of "Fat Tuesday" with a solemn funeral. Traditionally, at the end of the silent march that closes the carnival the "General" says goodbye to everyone with the classical phrase "See you next Fat Thursday at 1 pm."

Miller's daughter

One of the citizens is elected Mugnaia. The legend has that a miller's daughter (a "Mugnaia") once refused to accept the "right" of the local duke to spend a night with each newly wed woman and chopped his head off. Today the carriages represent the duke's guard and the orange throwers the revolutionaries. Spectators are not allowed to throw oranges, but visitors are allowed to enlist in the teams. If they wear a red hat they are considered part of the revolutionaries and will not have oranges thrown at them.

Originally beans were thrown, then apples. Later, in the 19th century, oranges came to represent the duke's chopped off head. The origin of the tradition to throw oranges is not well understood, particularly as oranges do not grow in the foothills of the Italian Alps and must be imported from Sicily. In 1994 an estimated 265,000 kilograms (580,000 lb) of oranges were brought to the city, mainly coming from the leftovers of the winter crop in southern Italy.

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