From the Palio of Cocchi to football in livery
An old Florentine saying goes: Bread and feasts keep the people quiet.
This is why the history of Florence is full of parties and games…
It was June 23rd 1563, the eve of Saint John, when Duke Cosimo I de ‘Medici instituted the Palio dei Cocchi to be held in Piazza Santa Maria Novella.
Two wooden pyramids, later replaced by the current ones in marble, signaled the curve point around which 4 wooden carriages (the 4 Florentine districts) were pulled by two horses. The race ended after three laps, and the winner’s prize was velvet drape, a “Palio”. The race has not been organized since 1858.
The origins of this game date back to the time of the Greeks and Romans. Two teams at the ends of the pitch, known as the sferisterio, threw a leather ball that had to be caught on the fly or after a single bounce, hitting it with their bare fist. A wooden bracelet was then used to protect the hand and forearm (from here the name of game of ball of the bracelet). The game was popular and was played on the street and in the squares and they tried to forbid it because it was considered dangerous. In 1893 a sferisterio was built in the Cascine park. For a few decades, the game of football has not been practiced anymore.
The Carousel of Saracino
In the past also famous in Florence, today it is held in Arezzo and Sarteano. In the field, called lizza, a pole is planted with the bust of a warrior in the form of a Saracen “unfaithful”. The Christian knights must hit him with a long spear, avoiding the blow of the spiked ball held by the Saracen.
The Palio of the Berbers
Another palio, this time raced by horses, was held for Saint John, is the “Palio dei Berberi” (Arab race horses). Dante remembers him in Paradise with these words: “… I was born in that place / where the last sixth is found first / from those who run your annual game”. The last palio was run in 1858.
The only “game” that has survived races and jousting is the historic Florentine football, also known as football in costume or football in livery, which is played regularly with a huge popular following,
“Football” is the name of a game, both proper and ancient
of the city of Florence, in the guise of an ordered battle …
(from the dictionary of the Accademia della Crusca)
Today, the three matches of the “Florentine Football” are played in June, in Piazza Santa Croce, in a tournament of the four districts of the city: White of Santo Spirito, Red of Santa Maria Novella, Green of San Giovanni , Light Blue of Santa Croce, with 27 football players per team, and a procession of nobles and armigers, all dressed in historical costumes of the ‘500.
Two semifinals the week before and June 24, the day of St. John, patron saint of the city, the hard-fought final.