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The Gladiators of Calcio Storico

For three epic days each year, Florence’s central square hosts an ancient sport where teams of men kick, punch and pummel their way to glory.

By David Airob, Jose Bautista & David Ramos | March 31, 2014

A n early form of football, the official rules of calcio storico fiorentino were first written in 1580 by Count Giovanni de’ Bardi. Originally played for rich aristocrats, even popes were known to play calcio at times.

The field is a giant sandpit with a narrow slit of a goal running the width of each end. Twenty-seven players make up each team, and the ball can be hit with feet or hands. Fight tactics such as punching, elbowing and martial arts techniques are all allowed, but kicks to the head are forbidden, as are fights of two or more against one.

Calcio Storico’s tournament is held the third week of June at the Piazza Santa Croce in the center of Florence. Four teams representing the neighborhoods of Florence face each other in the semifinals, with the winners going on to the final, played every year on June 24, the day of the patron saint of Florence, San Giovanni.

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