The Carnival of Ivrea Ivrea

The Carnival of Ivrea Sights & Activities

The Carnival of Ivrea is the only Carnival in the world which has a real plot and tells a story in which the protagonists are not mask-characters, but ideal figures, the symbols of anarchic values and actors of ancient events. Even if the original core of the legend has been gradually adapted over the years to the requirements of the various periods, there remain two main trends of events which make up the plot. The first goes back to the Middle Ages, when Federico Barbarossa installed the tyrant Raineri di Biandrate as lord of the town. For a long time the violence and abuse of power exasperated the people, who in 1194 rose up and destroyed the tyrant's castle, the symbol of oppression. The same fate was reserved to another despot in 1266, the Marquis Gugliemo of Monferrato.
In popular tradition, Raineri and Guglielmo become a single tyrant, who in-keeping with the custom of the time, claimed the right to practice "jus primae noctis",in other words to spend the wedding night with the brides. Until Violetta, the beautiful daughter of a miller, rebelled against the lord's will, cut off his head with a dagger and showed it to the people gathered beneath the castle walls. There followed a popular rebellion, which led to the destruction of the castle and which is today symbolised by the Battle of Oranges played out between the orange throwers on foot representing the rebels and those on the carts representing the tyrant's guards. In order to fully understand the current structure of the Festival, we must complete the plot with a glimpse of more recent history. Up until 1600, the various districts of the town celebrated Carnival separately, holding parties that were animated by great rivalry and which often ended in violent disputes. It was only in 1808 that the Napoleonic government, which had jurisdiction in Ivrea, ordered the reunification of Carnival celebrations and entrusted the control to a group of citizens in Ivrea.
To stimulate a congenial disposition of the town towards the government, the group was made to wear the uniform of the Napoleonic army. This is how the figure of the General came about, surrounded by the Aide-de-camp and Staff Officiers. Only in 1858, on the wave of the renewed desire for freedom stemming from the Risorgimento movement, the General was accompanied by the figure of the miller's daughter (Mugnaia), the heroine of the Historic Festival and symbol of liberty from every form of tyranny. Finally the obligation to wear the "Berretto Frigio" (red hat), dates back to the 19th century. It is the symbol of liberty and brotherhood inherited from the French revolutionists and must be worn to avoid becoming a target for the orange throwers.
The orange Battles began in the 19th century with the throwing of juicy fruit from the balconies at passers-by and vice-versa, imitating the grand Carnivals held in the seaside town of Nice where the first citrus fruits originated. They soon developed into real disputes which the authorities vainly tried to repress. It was only after the second world war that the first teams of throwers on foot opposed teams on horse-drawn carts, becoming the orange battles as we know them now. Today the battles are fought following strict rules in the squares of the town centre. There are tems on carts drawn by a two or four horses which engage in battle with the teams of orange throwers on foot which number hundreds of members.
This enormous mass of participants gives the exact measure of the love that every citizen has for their Carnival and the real contribution it makes to the harmonious fabric of this truly popular festival, so much so that the cost of oranges which amount to a total of 3.600 quintals are paid for personally by each participant. This is most certainly the most spectacular moment of the fight for freedom represented by the Carnival of Ivrea and which accounts for the largest collective participation. In fact, everybody can take part in the battle simply by enrolling in one of the teams which already have a lot of "foreign" members who become citizens of Ivrea just for the duration of the orange battles. This is just more evidence of how vital this singular and unique tradition really is.