Lady Marmalade: Ivrea Orange Festival

Festival Essentials

Where: Ivrea, Piemonte, Northern Italy
When: February
Happenings: Pith your strength between the orange chucking masses and the nobs
Remember to bring: A satsuma or two

Where it’s at

About 30 miles north of Turin, Ivrea is a small and quiet town in Piemonte, an alpine region offering some great ski stations like Sestriere and dotted with beautiful valleys. After dropping in at the festival, take some time to visit Turin, its cathedral and some of its art galleries. The city is also full of residences belonging to its long-standing dynasty the Savoys that are now under protection of UNESCO.

Every year Ivrea awakes one winter morning in February with an incredible weight of expectation. Usually calm, the town quickly becomes a cauldron of sensory overload that sweeps along everyone gathered there for its popular annual carnival, the Orange Festival.

History of the Orange Festival

The festival dates back to the legendary twelve century people’s revolt against Count Ranieri of Biandrate. This notorious scoundrel had the unsavoury habit of dragging young brides-to-be away to his bedchamber and deflowering them just before their wedding day, claiming he had ‘jus prime noctis’ over all the virgins in the town. A miller’s daughter, Violetta, retaliated against the tyrant’s advances, beheaded him and showed his head to the people of the town. This roused them into action and a violent insurrection against Ranieri’s guards took place. This celebration of freedom has taken place every year since with the stones replaced with locally produced oranges.

What happens at the Orange Festival?

The centre piece of the four-day celebration, which culminates on Shrove Tuesday, is the orange fight which pits 10,000 people on foot, dressed in colourful costumes – representing the masses – against people standing on chariots – the aristocracy. As the chariots charge around the streets, various orange battles develop all over town as people divide into several throwing teams. No-one feels guilty about chucking huge great quantities of oranges – they’re the excess from the Italian harvest that have to be destroyed under an EU agreement. The carnival is more than just a sea of orange juice. In among the crowds, a young, recently married volunteer tours the city as Violetta, the heroine of the insurrection and dressed in white, throws candy to the spectators.

On the evening of Shrove Tuesday, scarli (big poles erected in the middle of each district’s piazza) are set on fire and brighten Ivrea’s night sky, representing the burning of the tyrant’s castle and the freedom from the city. On the Wednesday, peace returns to Ivrea and the crowd gathers in the orange-repainted City Hall Place to eat “polenta e merluzzo” (fish and cornmeal), the traditional festival dish.



Ivrea – the history of the carnival
Exhaustive information about the Ivrea Orange Festival – the program day by day, some press communications, photos and articles about last year’s events.

Ivrea’s Carnival
Funny and informative look at the festival with statistics, team names, official results and plenty of photos.

By Sébastien Braha