History of Bocce

Early history

The oldest evidence of a game of bocce (bowls) is from 7000 BC and is found in the Neolithic city of Catal Huyuk, Turkey — where some stone spheres have been found that clearly show signs of rolling on rough terrain.

Similar objects, but more finely worked, were also found in ancient times in Egypt, Rome and Greece.  The Roman legions made the game known in Gaul and in Britain where it had a notable development.

In the Middle Ages it was played on the streets, in the squares, and in the castles. The bowls fascinated everyone, nobles and commoners. The widespread use of the game created problems of public order and disturbed the powerful.  The causes were the neglected work, the bets and, at times, the furious quarrels that broke out during heated matches.

The first prohibitions started which severely limited the game for many centuries. The Frenchman Charles IV the Fair (edict of 1319), Edward III of England (1339), Charles V the Wise (1369 in France) and the English kings Richard II (1388), Henry IV (1401) and Henry VIII (1511) said no to bocce.

However, many had a different story…  At the end of the fifteenth century, doctors from the University of Montpellier in France were convinced that this game was an exceptional cure for rheumatism.  It was also favorably seen by the Dutch humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536) who called it “ludus globorum missilium”; and by two theologians, the German Martin Luther (1483-1546) and the French Calvino (1509-1564).  The latter was an avid player.

The writer Rabelais, in 1532, told us how Gargantua practiced this game to digest while Bruegel the Elder immortalized the bowls in his famous painting Games of children (1559) exhibited at the National Picture Gallery in Vienna.

Sir Francis Drake was a true fan. In 1588, warned of the arrival of the Spanish fleet, the famous “Invincible Armada,” he quietly continued to play bowls on the docks of the port of Plymouth decided, before setting sail to defend England, to finish a very uncertain game with his boatswain.

But the bowls still worried the authorities. In 1576 the Doges of Venice issued a very heavy edict against “… the great danger of bales.”  They were practically one of the last anathemas against a game that, by now, had spread to almost all of Western Europe. In fact, towards the end of the seventeenth century, Charles II of England legalized it and even had a sort of regulation arranged.


In 1753 a small volume was published in Bologna, the “Gioco delle bocchie” by Raffaele Bisteghi, explaining the rules of the game then practiced throughout Italy with countless variations.

In 1873 the first Italian company was founded in Turin, which took on the curious name of Cricca Bocciofila. It was the first brick of the future national organization. A quarter of a century later, on November 14, 1897, a small group of Piedmontese bowling societies gathered in Rivoli, near Turin, and founded a body coordinating the activity on the territory.

The following year, again in Turin, on the occasion of the International Exhibition, the Piedmontese Bocciofila Union was born, the first federation led by Paolo Streglio.

In 1904, the first official game technical regulation was set up. The activity was then carried out only outdoors, on fields not delimited, with wooden bowls. The Italian emigrants spread the game in many countries of the Americas.

In 1919 the Italian Bocciofila Union (UBI) was born (the heir of the Piedmontese one) which in 1926 was recognized by the Coni. An important goal for the bowls to be seen as equivalent to other sports.

But the euphoria did not last long. Three years later a ministerial decree transferred the bowls from the Coni to the Opera Nazionale Dopolavoro (OND), considering the game a recreational activity.

In the new context, though not considered sports, bowls found a true and substantial unification throughout the Peninsula and a widespread peripheral organization was born.

A single technical game regulation was adopted throughout Italy, the Nazionale (mixed raffa and flight), favored by the birth of the “synthetic” bowl, a sphere mixed with sawdust and glue.

In 1945, with the fall of fascism, the Ond was dissolved, whose functions were transferred to the National Assistance for Workers (ENAL). After the war, the bowls had a very troubled life with the birth of multiple federations that practiced different game systems.

In 1956, the Turin Luigi Sambuelli was elected to the presidency of the reborn Italian Bowling Union which exclusively practiced the game of the flight specialty.  In 1957, Italy broke the French monopoly by winning the 9th World Championship in flight of squares with Umberto Granaglia, Giuseppe Mollo, Nicolò Gaggero and Giuseppe Carrera.

It was one of the first flashes of Granaglia, the “Campionissimo” future that, with his extraordinary career, is still considered the greatest player of this specialty.

In 1964 the Roman Sandro De Sanctis was elected president of the Italian game of bowls (ENAL-FIGB), which was reborn in the immediate post-war period on the foundations of the former Ond-Figb. This organization, the largest for members and spread throughout Italy, practiced three gaming systems, mainly the raffa but also the flight and the Punto and national flight.

In 1975 the first senior rainbow jersey of the petanque specialty arrived. On the highest podium in Quebec, in Canada, climbed the triad composed by Giovanni Serando, Salvatore Pau and Mario Carioli. The blue champions of small bowls also won the world championships in 1978 in Mons (Belgium) and in 1979 in Southampton (England). Also the raffa had its moment of glory winning in 1983 the first world championship in Chiasso, Switzerland, with Dante D’Alessandro, Bruno Suardi, Angelo Papandrea and Afro Molinari. D’Alessandro, still the greatest interpreter of the synthetic bowl, wore the rainbow jersey also in the first individual world championship in Lugano in 1988.

In 1979 an agreement was found and a unitary federation was created, wanted and officially recognized by the CONI, the current Italian Bocce Federation (FIB), which promotes and coordinates three game specialties, raffa, volo and petanque.

The official consecration of Fib on the international level alongside the other sports disciplines came for bowls in 1997 with official participation in the Lathi World Games, in Finland, and at the Mediterranean Games of Bari, prestigious overtures that gave the Azzurri two medals of gold. In that year, ceremonies were also organized in Rome and Turin to celebrate the first 100 years of the Federation’s life.

On 19 March 2010, the Federal Technical Center was inaugurated in Rome, the city of bowls sport in the Eur area which, for its size and functionality, is a unique structure in the world.

Italy, which has been practically the cradle of the game since Roman times, has always played a leading role worldwide. Throughout 2016, the blue shirts have earned 295 gold medals on the fields of the World Games, the Mediterranean Games and the European and world championships (a goal never achieved by any other federation of the world in the world).

In March 2017, the national assembly was held in Verona, the first in the history of Fib, with direct voting by the companies.