Battle Of The Oranges: Inside Italy’s Most Exciting Food Fight

How one Northern Italian city celebrates its history with a gigantic, bloody food fight consisting of oranges.

The ground outside is covered in inches of what looks like mud, a brown-orange pulp from crushed oranges obliterated into carnage. A bearded man lying down in the pulp leans onto a smiling bearded man wearing a kilt

Well, this is surely another way to get your daily dose of vitamin C. For hundreds of years, the Northern Italian city of Ivrea, about an hour and 20 minutes west of Milan, has held an annual three-day event, called the Carnival of Ivrea. Its main attraction is the Battle of the Oranges, which has become one of the world’s largest food fights. 

Though there are different accounts of its origin story, this ritual calls back to the fall of an oppressive ruler who controlled the city during the Middle Ages, according to legend. Supposedly, when the despised leader was overthrown, locals pelted stones at his castle, leading to its destruction. For years, this event would be commemorated in Ivrea and since the 1800s, oranges symbolize the stones thrown during the reenactment.

For the battle, groups are organized by wearing a color and uniform, with team names including “Team Picche” and “Team Morte.” Groups of people on horse-drawn carts riding through town act as the tyrant’s troops while the aranceri, or orange throwers, are on foot throwing oranges at the people on the carts, signifying liberation from their ruler. The oranges, mainly from Calabria and Sicily, are composted afterwards to become natural fertilizer.

“For us, it’s a passion that’s passed down through the generations. It’s more important than Christmas,” one reveler told BuzzFeed News. He added, “I love the adrenaline of throwing oranges, fighting alongside my friends. We’re all united. We celebrate together independently from the team.” Due to COVID, the Battle of the Oranges hasn't happened since 2020; the only other times the event’s been canceled were due to World War I and World War II. The first day of this year’s Battle of the Oranges had 19,800 tickets sold and a total of 30,000 participants, which is a record for the gathering, according to the event’s organizers. This year there were 9 teams on foot, 47 wagons, and about 10,000 aranceri. 

People wearing jackets depicting two swords inside a yellow heart toss oranges at a group of people wearing helmets, vests. The bright blue sky is punctuated with dozens of oranges flying midair
A public square is filled with people dressed in black and red medieval costumes.
A side-by-side depicts a young child standing on tip toes to reach into a basket, which are stacked at twice their height; the image on the right shows a black horse wearing blinders, red feathers, and bells
Six tall, vertical stacks of wooden crates of oranges sit in a parking lot in front of a coat of arms and flags depicting the team's colors
People wear red outfits and yellow bandanas outside, all yelling, surrounding a shirtless man wearing a kilt whose torso is painted red
People on street level and people wearing helments on a raised platform hurl oranges at one another; the still image captures oranges flying midair and a spray of juice particles
Two white horses jump, startled, pushing into each other, in a parking lot covered in crushed oranges and orange pulp full of people waring color-coordinated outfits
Standing under a noose, people wearing helmets on a raised platform are hit with oranges; in the foreground, a blurry man has his arm raised and an orange in his fist, about to chuck it at someone on the platform directly before him
People wear checkered shirts with the rook chess piece on the backs, standing near crates of oranges while people in the background wear red beanies, standing behind a very tall net
Someone ties twine around their shoes for better traction on a cobblestone ground that is covered in a mud-like layert of orange peels and disgusting crushed pulp
A woman lights a man's cigarette; the man is holding an orange
A man holds two big fistfuls of crushed oranges, spilling onto a young boy punching the man's groin
Two men in different team uniforms are covered in a layer of debris from oranges being hurled around
Someone lies in the grass, their legs are crossed, their knee-high socks and black shoes are covered in orange pulp
People in a crowd cheer
Three middle-aged men splattered with orange pulp stand silently, each gazing in a different direction
A crowd of people trudge through ankle-deep orange pulp on the ground that looks like mud. We can only see people from the shoulders down.
Two pictures: on the left, two men hold up a crate of fresh oranges, on the right: a man holds up a large black speaker for playing music, as people around him cheer
Teens and young people play in the orange pulp-covered ground
A smiling woman carries an orange in one hand, her tongue pointing out between her teeth leans against a man who is holding his hands together in front of him, both are splattered with orange debris
Piles of wooden crates scattered over the ground covered in a thick orange layer of mud
People, messy with debris after the event, stand beside piles of different plastic and wooden crates
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