In Italy I've discovered that the people of Tuscany have upheld some very old traditions in playing games. These traditions go back as far as the renaissance and Middle Ages retaining strong cultural links to the gladiatorial games of Roman times.
I've found 3 Tuscan games, namely Il Palio of Sienna, Il Pozzo and Calcio Fiorentio of Florence. All 3 games share a theme where the goal of each game is achieved without rules. This format of play lends itself well to acts of highly physical contact. Indeed this attachment to physical prowess is central to the ancestral culture of feudal times in this region.
A raw demonstration of power is the key message sent out by these games to the people of Tuscany and those who might conspire to overthrow the region's rulers.
Calcio Fiorentino, also known as Calcio Storico or Calcio in Costume, was born in Florence during the renaissance in the 17th century. The game was devised by the 4 most powerful noble families of the region with the single intention of demonstrating their physical prowess to their subjects and enemies alike. In a show of true aristocratic metal the ruling class chose not to employ peasant champions, but instead only allowed family nobles to participate in the game's challenge. This event showed that the nobles were made not only of fiscal power but also of brut force.
Calcio Fiorentino was and is still played once a year in the very heart of Florence in Piazza St Croce ensuring nobody of the province can miss the occasion. Before the game commences an elaborate parade and ceremony of flag throwing and military marching in historical costume takes place. The player also dress in traditional costume of the period. Many of the spectators also wear traditional costume to fully immerse themselves in the occasion. Since Piazza St.Croce has changed very little since the birth of Calcio Fiorentino and so many of the participants are dressed to suit the period, the viewer can not help but be transported back to feudal times.
The rules of Calcio Fiorentino are that there are no rules. It is very simple indeed. There are 2 teams each with 27 players, a goal roughly 1 meter high as wide as the pitch at opposing ends, and a ball. Who ever scores the most goals before the time of the match has elapsed is the winner. What happens in-between is entirely up to the players.
The Coliseum's Renaissance
Once Calcio Fiorentino has commenced a period of posturing ensues as each team tests and weighs up the physical strengths and weaknesses of the other. With no rules to apply, players may carry, throw and kick the ball in any direction that pleases them. Similarly players may evade or commence full body contact with the opposition at any time or place with no relation to the position of the ball or other demarcation. Each member of the team is doing there best to prevent the opposing team forming a strategy of attack on their goal and one of the simplest ways to do this is pin your mark to the ground. Hence it is common to find players wrestling with each other at one end of the field whilst the ball is in the opposite end of the field.
Whilst each team's objective is to score a goal in the opposing net of the piazza, the lack of rules placed on how this task must be achieved leads to an often-violent display of strength as players use all their force and brawn to tackle their opponents. The shear physical effort of fighting off opponents, delivering accurate passes or saves during 50 minutes of solid play places great demands on players. As such the players practice Roman and Greek gladiatorial training for long periods to keep in shape and stamina for the ordeal.
Calcio Fiorentino is like a bare fisted gladiatorial brawl, a far more brutal precursor to rugby and American football. If the players were given weapons there would be little to distinguish Calcio Fiorentino from one of the gruesome events held at the Coliseum during Roman times.
Both the style of training and the need to demonstrate power through entertainment were born in the Roman gladiatorial games of the Coliseum more that sixteen hundred years before Calcio Fiorentino.
Although the players are now the doormen of Florence's nightclubs in place of family nobles, the training, game style and need to demonstrate power are still relatively unchanged. 300 + years later and these traditions and cultural values of the game are still being upheld today.
Demonstration of physical prowess is something common to everyday life in Italy. An individual's physical boundaries are often broken favoring head-on contact. The Tuscans too prefer frank and direct verbal exchange, coupled with a loud and bombastic vocal delivery; it is not a social culture for the timid or faint hearted.
Calcio Fiorentino is for me an honest and deliberate exhibition of a peoples desire to show a flag of physical dominance, and is exemplary of Italian culture past and present.