The industrial city of Ivrea, the headquarters of Olivetti, known world-wide for being innovators in the past of typewriters, and later computers, situated in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy, was declared a world heritage site in 2018. This came about due to the successful and unique design of the area in order to develop the testing ground for the headquarters of Olivetti (incorporating the factory as well as accommodation) by leading urban planners between the 1930’s and 1960’s,to create a modern version of the relationship between industrial production and architecture.
Having once been fortunate enough to have lived in Ivrea, for several months, I remember how I faced the prospect of the move with a great deal of trepidation. I had a two year old child, and had visions of doing the daily washing down at a local stream with a load of unsophisticated local women. Oh boy, how wrong can one be – thankfully! All the mod cons were available and the furnished apartment we rented had a washing machine!! The local people were anything but unsophisticated and my husband and I both had Italian lessons with a lady from whom we learnt not only to speak the language, but also to appreciate some of the culinary delights.
Such an absolute privilege, looking back, to have had the many experiences we had during our sojourn in Ivrea, and later in Milano. Our time in Ivrea actually coincided with the traditional Carnevale d’Ivrea and the battle of the oranges, which takes place annually shortly before Lent. The only year it was cancelled was in 1960 due to the death of Adriano Olivetti. Watching the following video confirms that many traditions have stood the test of time and will no doubt continue to do so.
Firstly, a short description of the town of Ivrea. Steeped in history, there are still cobbled streets in some areas which are juxtaposed with modern shops and restaurants – old and new side by side. Situated at the edge of the Aosta valley, Ivrea has the Alps on one side which, during winter months, are capped with snow. Close to ski resorts such as the town of Cervinia, which is located at the foot of Mt. Cervino (known world-wide as the Matterhorn) and a relatively short train journey to the Swiss border, it makes good sense for tourists to take the time to discover this mediaeval treasure.
If one is able to visit Ivrea at the time of the annual Carnival then it really is an amazing experience to be part of the festivities of the Battle of the Oranges. Dating back to around 1808 this battle commemorates the time when in medieval times Violetta, the miller’s daughter, refused to be bedded by the local Duke who took it upon himself to sleep with all newly married women. She actually cut off his head, and the oranges which are thrown in their thousands during the battle are meant to depict his severed head. The teams of revellers are all dressed in ancient costumes and the ones on the horse drawn carts wear helmets whilst those on foot do not have this protection.
As visitors to this spectacle you are advised to purchase and wear a red hat which resembles an elf’s hat, as this is meant to protect you from being bombarded by oranges. It doesn’t always work though, and I remember being able to choose to view some of the battles being fought behind a wire fence erected for the purpose and still having to duck regularly to avoid being hit by a citric missile! The thousands of oranges used during the festival turn the entire town centre into something resembling a gigantic juice extraction plant. One can hardly bear to think about the huge amount of cleaning up which has to be undertaken once the festivities come to an end. I think the consumption of oranges probably declines dramatically for quite a while after the Carnivale!
The carnival is not just about the orange fight though as there are stalls selling amazing sweet and savoury treats along the banks of the local canal. More information is freely available on Google and well worth the read. All in all several days of merriment for both young and old to enjoy, despite the chilly weather.