Pamplona's Running with the Bulls and Siena's "Palio" (a wild horse race through the city square) are good examples.
With these and other events in mind, I offer this look into something that is definitely unique: "Calcio Storico".
Two teams kicking a ball on a measured field,
try to outscore each other using only their feet, with goals on each end.
At least that's the soccer I grew up with.
For me and my friends it was a fun afterschool program.
For the Italians, well, it's as important to them as hockey is to Canadians.
If you're even mildly aware of soccer in Italy, then you know that they don't call it "soccer". Honestly, I've never thought that was a suitable name in the first place - seriously, what are we socking?
And don't we "sock" with our fists?
The Italians also don't call it "football" or "futbol".
They call it "calcio" (meaning "to kick").
It seems fitting that people living on a piece of land that's shaped like a boot, understand that they are kicking, not socking.
Calcio is the biggest, most well known sport in Italy.
But there is another "calcio" out there - a lesser known and much more violent, gritty version.
It's called "Calcio Storico", and it happens in Florence, Italy.
Like the modern day ring-fighting of M-1 Medieval in Russia
this is a throwback of sorts.
Like Pisa's "Battle on the Bridge" It goes back a long time, and serves as an annual reminder of a piece of local history.
Before Italy's current version of "calico" existed,
this more brutal sport carried the name.
These days, in order to differentiate between the two, the older more historic version is appropriately called "Calcio Storico".
Different levels of violence are tolerated in different sports.
In some games it is expected - even encouraged.
There's an old joke:
"I went to a boxing match and a hockey game broke out".
I know many hockey fans who go to games more for the fights than the actual skating and scoring.
Take all the thrill and excitement of hockey fights, mix in street fighting, stage it on a walled-in field with a sand floor, and pit two teams of 27 players each, and you've got Calcio Storico.
Somewhere in there, there's an effort to move the ball into the other team's goal (which you can do by hand or foot).
But there are players who want nothing to do with the ball - they're just there to dish out pain and pick up where they left off last year.
The season for this sport lasts only three days.
I tend to think it's because by the end of three days they're all either hospitalized or recovering.
As with most sports, there are rivalries - but these ones sometimes look more like vendettas.
The four quarters of the city of Florence each have a team.
Two compete on day one,
the other two on the second day,
and then on the third day the winners of the two matches face off in the finals.
Competitors wear renaissance looking pantaloons, and either begin the game shirtless, or end up without their shirts somewhere along the line.
There are no helmets, no pads, and seemingly...very little sanity.
Think MMA in rugby form.
Calcio Storico has a rich history.
It is said to have originated in the 1500's, although there are indicators that it was begun as a revival of a similar game which was played by Romans.
Delving even further back, there are those who say that the Roman version was an adaptation of a similar game played by Greeks.
When the 50 minute match starts, forward linemen spread out,
pairing up with sparring partners across the central dividing line.
A referee tosses the large ball up into the air.
As it lands, somewhere near the center of the field, guys start taking jabs at each other while efforts are made to get the ball under control.
Whoever gets the ball, typically will bring it back safely in their territory, and wait to try and make a run to score.
Meanwhile, the fights on the front line continue.
It might seem like there are no rules,
but the referees do enforce a few regulations:
No sucker punching,
No kicks to the head,
and no double-teaming on a foe.
Watch a match and you will see these things happen,
but sometimes guys get called on it, and even ejected.
Others leave the sand court...by stretcher.
Sooner or later, a few of the guys in the back will try to wage an approach to score. The guy with the ball will rove around, then make a dash forward.
Opposing players, spotting the ball carrier react, and often a passing game ensues.
While some say Calcio Storico may be the earliest inspiration for American football, the passing here is not your typical NFL method.
It looks more like the tossing and lateral pitching done in rugby.
If the man with the ball gets close enough to the back fence, he'll try to force the ball over it and into the back net of the opposing team.
One score equals one point.
Something resembling it may yield a half point.
(I must admit that I don't quite understand exactly how the half point is earned)
Most games seem to be 95% fighting, 3% scoring, and 2% stopping to figure out what the heck is going on.
This year's Calcio Storico was just played out.
In the days leading up to it, someone at the Art Vivia Italy Blog wrote a good piece on it called:
"Of Pantaloons and Cow - the Calcio Storico Fiorentino"
In researching for this post, I discovered that there's a movie coming out soon which includes Calcio Storico in its plotline.
The film will be released in September, under the name "Lost in Florence".
Sparse information on the film is available both on Wikipedia and IMDB.
Here's the teaser:
Here's the trailer:
With the popularity of MMA fighting, it's no surprise that someone is making a film with Calcio Storico in the story. Honestly, I'm quite surprised it didn't come out on the coat tails of Fight Club.
While this might seem surprisingly violent to some,
remember that back when this game originated, folks settled disputes quite differently than they do now.
In fact when they were first doing this in Florence, and calling it Calcio Storico, scores were being settled on certain bridges in Venice - some with fists, others with weapons.
(to learn more, see "Ponte dei Pugni")