The sheer beauty and grandeur of Florence is always a double-edged sword for the city’s inhabitants. Capital of the Renaissance, every year tens of millions of visitors descend on the Tuscan municipality, a factor that generates income for the area but also generates problems in terms of overcrowding, litter and general bad behaviour.
As visitors can be overheard asking local business owners “do you know David?” in reference to the 16th century Michelangelo masterpiece, you can forgive those who are trying to go about their normal lives for a quiet sigh or a tiny eye-roll.
Those same tourists may well be horrified at the sight of a sand-filled arena, packed with the sight of 54 bloodied and battered men tearing lumps out of each other every June, but this is as much a part of the city they flock to see as the famous Uffizi gallery or the Duomo that dominates the skyline.
Of course, none of those treasures were collected by the likes of the ruling Medici family without bloodshed, but this can easily be swept under the carpet. Meanwhile, Calcio Storico Fiorentino is unashamedly brutal, in your face, and not easily ignored, but the men who take part — known as Calciante — have more right than anyone to enjoy this historic game.
“I love my city and playing Calcio Storico is a way to be even more in harmony with it,” admitted Calciante Giacomo Peggion to this writer. “I keep the Florentine traditions alive to feel even more part of the city. I want to help her [Florence] to last a long time. I love the extreme nature of the game but don’t know if I would play if there wasn’t the traditional and historical component. There are a lot of extreme sports around. This is not a sport and it’s unique.”
For the competition, the city is divided into four areas: Santo Spirito (Bianchi), Santa Croce (Azzurri), Santa Maria Novella (Rossi) and San Giovanni (Verdi). Giacomo is dedicated to Bianchi neighbourhood, Santo Spirito one of the only areas in Florence still to have natives living there as all the rest have seen house prices driven through the roof by wealthy foreigners buying up holiday homes.
“The Santo Spirito area is the last real Florentine neighbourhood, so there is more connection with the team,” says Lorenzo Taddeucci, another Bianchi Calciante. “A lot of my team-mates live and work in the neighbourhood so it gives us the “extra factor”.
“It’s about pride. It’s about glory,” he continued. “You play for your city first of all, every time you step into the arena, it’s for the pride and the glory of your city. There is no money involved, so it’s just for honour and pride.”
Such motivations are enough on their own and – even for those who don’t enjoy the aspect of violence – it is easy to see why locals are prepared to go to such extreme measures in order to defend both their own and their city’s identity.
The tourism and problems that brings are accepted by Florentines, just don’t expect them to dumb down the few parts of their culture that exclusively belong to them any time soon.