The Historical Carnival of Ivrea is the oldest historical carnival in Italy whose primary rites of medieval origin – the Zappata and the embracing of the Scarlas conducted by the Abba until the end of the 18th century – were handed down orally until 1808, the year in which it appears the first transcription of a ceremony in The Books of Verbal Processes. The Historical Carnival of Ivrea is a unique event in which history and legend intertwine to give life to a great popular civic festival with a strong symbolic value, during which the community of Ivrea celebrates its capacity for self-determination recalling an episode of liberation from the tyranny of medieval memory.
Best known for the spectacular Battle of the Oranges, which unfolds over three days in the city’s main squares, the Carnival of Ivrea features a complicated ceremony that incorporates various eras and culminates in a historical parade.
The real star of the show is the Beautiful Mugnai (Miller’s Daughter), a symbol of freedom and the heroine of the festival since her first appearance in 1858. Alongside her are the General, from the time of Napoleon, who leads the brilliant General Staff; the Assistant Grand Chancellor, the master of ceremonies and strict guardian of tradition; the young Priors, one for each of the five districts, and the Podestà, who represents the power of the city. To accompany the parade, a band plays the much-loved pipes and drums. The spirit of the Carnival of Ivrea, perfectly summed up by the Carnival Song, Una volta anticamente (Once upon a time), lies in commemorating a popular uprising against the Marquess of Monferrato, who was starving the city.
According to the legend, it was the heroism of Violetta, a miller’s daughter, which freed the people from tyranny. Rebelling against the droit du seigneur that the Marquess insisted upon, Violetta killed him with his own sword, and the famous Battle of the Oranges recalls this uprising. As a sign of their participation in the festival, all citizens and visitors take to the streets wearing the classic Berretto Frigio (Phrygian cap) from Fat Thursday onwards on the orders of the General. This red hat, shaped like a stocking, is a symbol of solidarity with the uprising and therefore the pursuit of liberty, just as it was during the French Revolution.
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