On February 17, 1530 Piazza Santa Croce in Florence was the scene of one of the most important challenges of the Florentine Republic to the Emperor Charles V: the population - besieged since many months by the imperial troops – defiantly decided to organize a football game, giving the impression of not considering the Empire army worthy of attention.
The reenactment of that day, which is celebrated in Florence in our times, refers to that important football match applying the rules of the Renaissance era and is played by the four historic districts of Florence.
The “historic” Florentine Football, also called Calcio in costume or “Football in livery” due to the costumes worn by the players, is a “game” that was in its primordial movements many centuries ago.
The Greeks practiced a game called Spheromachìa, subsequently integrated in the Roman tradition with the name of Harpastum, which was played by the legionaries around 59 BC, the same period “Fiorenza” (Florence) was founded. As many as 20 centuries ago, as now, the matches were played by two teams of sandy soils and the rules were kept to a minimum and not very articulate.
In the second half of the XV century football a very popular sport, and it was practiced everywhere. Often it was an occasion of joy and fun, but even cause of disturbing noises and shouting, which was in contradiction with the costume of preserving silence in order to respect the sacredness of the churches and of the most important places. To preserve the silence “posters” (sculpted on stone) were applied on the walls of the places identified and in plain sight. There is written: “Do not play ball. Strict penalties are reserved for the offenders”.
Resisting the time, even today some of these “Calls” are identified on the facades of the buildings in Florence.
The game was so popular that in January 1490, being the river Arno completely frozen, a field was designed on it and some games were played.
A subsequent reorganization of the game led the Florentines to engage in real challenges. The players (named calcianti), playing a game filled of testosterone, a real demonstration of strength and virility, boasted big names of nobility in their ranks, famous personalities of the public life of the city and the most important families of the city.
The games were usually organized during the Carnival season.
After a long period of inactivity that goes from 1700 to 1900, when the Florentine soccer is played at unofficial events that have not been reported in the chronicles of the time, the game was reorganized in May 1930 when, or the four hundredth anniversary of siege of Florence by Charles V, a tournament between the four districts of the city was organized.
The Historic Districts of Florence are the “whites” of the Sacro Spirito (Holy Spirit), the “Azzurri” of Santa Croce, the “Reds” of Santa Maria Novella and the “Green” of San Giovanni. The prize, a Chianina white calf.
Today, the tournament takes place in three matches, two semi-finals and a final. The draw for the first two matches take place on Easter Sunday in the manifestation of the “Scoppio del Carro” (Explosion of the Cart) in the Piazza del Duomo. It is played with 27 calcianti per team as follows: 5 Sconciatori, 4 Datori innanzi and 3 Datori addietro: and “fifteen runners in three quadrilles: all to fight in the usual and tradition places and order of the Game.”
The whole parade of the Florentine Republic, composed for the occasion by 530 walk-ons wearing Renaissance costume, refers to the same period of history, recalling the costumes and the arms of the Republic.
Here are some famous calcianti:
Cosimo I de’ Medici, grand duke of Tuscany, Francesco I de’ Medici, grand duke of Tuscany, Vincenzo Gonzaga, duke of Mantua, Enrico, prince of Condé, Giulio de’ Medici, the Pope Clemente VII, Alessandro de’ Medici, the Pope Leone XI, Maffeo Barberini, the Pope Urbano VIII.
It is therefore in Florence and its Football the origin of some sports that are now among the most famous in the world. Soccer or Football, Rugby, American Football, originated or are inspired by this historic and primordial “ball play.”