BBC News Magazine looks at a historical relic of Florentine history:
No one knows exactly when “Calcio Storico” — historic football — was first played here, but its pitch, the piazza of Santa Croce, dates from the 14th Century and the rules of the game — in so far as there are any — were written down in the late 1500s. The four quarters of the city — Santa Spiritu, San Giovanni, Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce, named for their great local churches — each put up a team of 27 men.
The aim, over two heats and a final, is for players to get the ball over the 4ft (1.2m) fence at either end of the pitch. To achieve this, players can use both hands and feet, as well as every other part of the body when it comes to wrestling, punching and generally immobilising their opponents on the way. In other words — sport as muted warfare.
A 15th Century Florentine would still recognise much of the event. Each game is preceded by trumpet fanfares and marching drums as costumed dignitaries and flag-throwers in the rich hot renaissance colours of their teams march from their various quarters to the piazza. The only concession to sartorial modernity — the players’ coloured t-shirts with sponsors’ logos — are off within minutes of getting onto the pitch, so that all one can see is naked upper torsos, caked with sand and sweat, hurling themselves at each other, as the crowd roars its approval and each goal, or caccia, is greeted by cannon fire.
The addition of tourism has done little to blunt the edge of civic competition and not-so-benign thuggery that comes with it. Time travel works both ways, and watching from my window as the teams arrive (in the Renaissance most respectable women wouldn’t have been allowed out anyway), you get a distinct whiff of a darker, more physical past, where the streets were often full of excess testosterone looking for action.