The orange tree (Citrus sinensis) is an ancient hybrid, the result of a cross between the pomelo and the mandarin tree over 4000 years ago. [PHOTO 1]. Native to China and south-east Asia, the import of this tree to Italy is uncertain. It probably arrived in Europe via the silk route (some Roman texts mention it as early as the 1st century AD as 'melarancia'), but cultivation only took off in Sicily where the weather is warm, but its dissemination stalled. It rediscovered by Portuguese sailors only centuries later.
The orange is the most widespread citrus fruit in the world and hundreds of varieties are produced. More than twenty varieties are cultivated as table fruit and the same number for juice in Italy alone. We find in particular the Arancia rossa di Sicilia IGP [blood orange of Sicily] (moro, tarocco and sanguinello), the Arancia di Ribera DOP (with particular organoleptic qualities much appreciated by connoisseurs) and the Arancia del Gargano IGP.
The 'Conca d'Oro' of Palermo is the symbolic area of orange cultivation in Italy, one of the wonders of agriculture throughout the Mediterranean. After the Middle Ages, orange cultivation expanded towards the greenhouses of Garda, which supplied the tables of the great lords of Venice and Milan, and towards the Genoese coast.
A particular use of this fruit can be found in the Battaglia delle Arance (Battle of the Oranges) of the Ivrea Carnival, a goliardic representation of the revolt of the people (the aranceri on foot) against the armies of the tyrant (the aranceri on carts). During the carnival, for three afternoons, the teams on foot "fight" with launches of oranges against the "aranceri" on the carts protected by leather helmets.