Calcio Storico Fiorentino, also known as Calcio in Costume, is a Florentine tradition dating back to the 15th century. Its origins aren't exactly clear, but many believe it began when military troops needed a way to keep fit while awaiting another battle. Indeed, as legend goes, the bloody, violent free-for-all, which resembles rugby more than modern day calcio (football), became a popular way of training young soldiers.

But then young aristocrats in Florence picked up on the game and made it into a sport--a ruthless competition over a large ball, featuring hard body blows, fierce attacks, and many tangled limbs as players pass the ball from one teammate to another in search of a goal. Opponents snag, pull, and tackle them, often ripping the medieval costumes in the process, to prevent goals from happening.

The matches are the highlights of the celebrations, of course, but the pre-game show is also quite impressive with a full parade in Renaissance dress; even the referees don velvet caps with ostrich-feathers.

There aren't many actual rules to govern Calcio Storico Fiorentino, but a crucial one is that the match must end with a "caccia" or goal. Four teams representing Florence's four neighborhoods (Santa Croce in blue, Santa Maria Novella in red, Santo Spirito in white, and San Giovanni in green) take part in the matches, and, not surprisingly, loyalties run fierce.

Matches are held in a sand-covered Piazza Santa Croce from mid- to late June during the celebrations of the city's patron saint, St. John the Baptist; the final match is held on his feast day, 24 June.

Have you seen Calcio Storico Fiorentino live?