June is one of the best months to find yourself in Florence, as it can be a lot of fun to watch the semi-final games for the Calcio Storico or the final match played on June 24, on Florence's patron saint's feast day for St. John the Baptist.
What is Calcio Storico?
The Calcio Storico Fiorentino is a combination of soccer, rugby and big time wrestling originated in 16th century Florence and played today in historical costume. The four teams of the historical neighborhoods of the city play against each other, first in two semi-finals and then the final match to determine the winner.
The four teams are: Santa Croce (blue), Santo Spirito (white), Santa Maria Novella (red), and San Giovanni (green).
Piazza Santa Croce, located directly in front of the church Santa Croce, has always been the home to this game, known as “giuoco del calcio fiorentino” or more simply just as Calcio (which means “kick” in Italian). The square is covered in dirt to "return" to those times when it was just a dirt square (today it is covered in stone) and recreate the setting. Of course, today bleachers are also set up so that spectators can better enjoy the game.
The official rules of the Calcio Storico were first published in 1580 by Giovanni de’ Bardi, a Florentine count. Invented by rich aristocreats, Calcio was originally just played by just the higher social class and took place every night between Epiphany and Lent. Just like Roman harpastum, it was played in teams of 27 and both feet and hands were used. Goals can be scored by throwing the ball over a designated spot on the perimeter of the field with another goal running the width of the short ends. There is a main referee, six linesmen and a field master. Each game is played out for 50 minutes with the winner being the team with the most points or “cacce” scored.
Want to know what the game means for a "calciante" or Calcio player? Read my interview of Fabrizio Vallero, a "calciante" for the Bianchi of Santo Spirito to find out.
The prize for the winning team? A Chianina calf!!
Who plays who for the semi-finals? The teams are decided on Easter Sunday by drawing painted balls, see photo below.
Over a weekend in early June, the two semifinals are played between the four teams. The two winners will then play against each other in the final match, which is always played on June 24th (at 5pm) in grand style on Florence’s feast day for its patron saint, St. John the Baptist. On this day, a splendid parade in historical costume starts in Piazza Santa Maria Novella and heads through the center on its way to Piazza Santa Croce. Each of the four districts is in the parade, you’ll see the players going by as they go to play the final, even those that won’t be playing the last match. The parade starts roughly around 4pm since the final should start around 5pm. Just head downtown, you’ll run into the fun!
Don’t forget to end the day’s celebrations along the banks of the Arno to watch the spectacular fireworks launched from Piazzale Michelangelo!
Get Your Calcio Tickets Ahead of Time
Tickets are generally sold in late May or early June just a few days, a week at the most, ahead of the matches. As the game has received more publicity abroad over the last 10 years, the popularity of the games have made tickets hard to get, especially for locals. In the past, tickets have been available online but this year, 2018, tickets were only sold in the local box office - none online - to give locals a chance to get tickets first. Consider that this is a game by locals and for locals, not for tourists, just as the Palio in Siena. So you might be unable to find tickets to the matches - don't despair, you can always try to view it by live streaming.
Cost of tickets generally goes from 29 to 80 euro with the best central seats in tribune A being the most costly.
Calcio Storico Fiorentino 2018
The semi-finals will be played the weekend of June 9 and 10.
On June 9th, the the “Blues” of Santa Croce will challenge the “Reds” of Santa Maria Novella in Piazza Santa Croce at 5pm.
On June 11th, the “Greens” of San Giovanni will go against the “Whites” of Santo Spirito (also at 5pm).
UPDATE JUNE 2: Yesterday, the official press conference for the upcoming games finally confirmed that tickets will not be sold online this year. Sale of tickets for the semi-finals starts at 11am June 6 at the main office for Boxoffice Toscana at Le Murate. Tickets for the final on the 24th will being June 19, again only at the local box office. More details on costs on the official site.
Watch on internet or TV!
If you can't make it to Florence for the games or if you can't find tickets, get a front row seat the the Calcio Storico games by watching the online stream offered by RTV38! RTV38 is a local regional TV channel so the games can also be seen on TV if you're in the region. While it won't be the same thing as being there in person, you can still enjoy a view into what Calcio Fiorentino looks like!