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 basically a combination of soccer, rugby, football, wrestling, and boxing 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 Florence football. The square is covered in dirt and a stadium is constructed for this event for spectators.
The official rules of the Calcio Storico were first published in 1580 by Giovanni de’ Bardi, a Florentine count but for a simplistic understanding the beginning of the match is designed for the teams to attack and fight each other to send as many opposing players off of the field so they have the advanced for the rest of the game. Can you guess how they send them off? Beat the hell out of the other team! Next steps are goals, these 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. Each game is played out for 50 minutes with the winner being the team with the most points or “cacce” scored.
Why do they willingly participate in this event? Pride and to represent there neighborhood.
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- early June through the online ticket reseller Box Office Toscana. Many of the seated places get sold-out early on so we do recommend you buy tickets ahead of time if you know your dates and want to make sure to go. If you're interested in being in the short-end tribunes (with fans of one team or the other), you could also just wait until you are here and buy tickets then since all of these are for standing room only. If you want to be embrace the culture why not jump into the stands of one neighborhood and root for one team.
Cost of tickets generally goes from 22 to 53 euro with the best central seats in tribune A being the most costly (plus cost of pre-sales on the website). Sale of tickets starts only once the semi-final dates have been decided, it varies from year to year. Start looking for tickets online from mid-May, as they often aren't available earlier (they can also start much later as well.