Unforgettable light show & traditions
Pisa hosts three very important and traditional celebrations in the month of June which draw 1000’s of people, both locals, and international crowds: the event is called Giugno Pisa and it promises beautiful moments, excitement and delicious food.
The festivities mainly center around the patron saint (San Ranieri), events which have been repeating for hundreds of years. So, if you are in or near Pisa this June, be sure to pencil these events into your itinerary and if you want to stay close by, reserve direct with the owners early to find space!
The very popular celebrations have fixed annual dates: the Luminara (June 16), the Regatta Parade (June 17) and the Battle of the Bridge (last Saturday in June).
Reflections of the city on the Arno
The event that opens the San Ranieri festivities is the Luminara and it takes place on the evening of June 16: the eve of the patron saint's feast day. Days before the event, you will notice the entire city working on white wooden frames which have been fitted onto the facades running along the Arno river and within the city walls. These frames are designed to highlight the outline of the buildings when illuminated with small candles spaced along the frames.
In the evening, Pisa shuts off its outdoor lights, and the city comes alive in the flickering candles, reflecting in the Arno River, glowing in the windows and giving life to a game of shadows that will easily entrance guests of all ages. Even the Square of Miracles ( Piazza dei Miracoli) is illuminated with gas lamps set in the arches of the church, baptistery, and tower. It is easy to imagine the city as it once was hundreds of years ago.
The tradition of the Luminara dates back to 1688 and has been celebrated every year since then (aside from a few exceptional interruptions), delighting and amazes tourists and locals alike. The only thing that could make this evening any better, a wonderful fireworks show starts anytime (normally) between 11:30 pm to midnight. Be sure to claim a quiet corner where you can settle back and enjoy the atmosphere. We went to the Luminara a few years ago and took many pictures, we have a whole article on it here.
The San Ranieri Regatta
A long-standing competition within the city
The celebrations move onto the Arno river where the four neighborhoods of the city battle against each other in honor of the nautical tradition upon which Pisa was founded. It once stood as one of the four Italian Maritime Republics alongside Amalfi, Genoa, and Venice. Each boat has a crew of 8 oarsmen, a helmsman, and a montatore, or a "climber". The race takes place over a 1,500 meter-long stretch of the Arno, and they are rowing against the current.
If you're wondering why a climber is part of a regatta team, you should know that it is this person who at the end of the rowing competition is supposed to ensure the victory for his "quartiere" racing against the other teams to “capture” the proper flag.
It sounds all very exciting, doesn't it? You can learn more about the flags by reading here.
The Battle of the Bridge
A thousand year challenge
The final event concludes a month of colorful celebrations, and even though it is not in honor of their patron saint, the local population take this event quite seriously (just like that of Palio in Siena, Calcio Storico in Florence, Giostra dell’Orso in Pisa and Saracino in Arezzo).
The event is called the Battle of the Bridge and it literally holds up to its name, as two opposing teams gather on the last Saturday of June to literally battle for possession of the bridge.
This tug-of-war competition takes place on one of the bridges that cross the Arno river in Pisa: the Ponte di Mezzo. The city is divided into two teams depending on where they live: the Tramontana team consists of those north of Arno and Mezzogiorno for the South. The teams have to push a large iron cart set up on the central part of the bridge on rails, trying to conquer the enemy's side of the bridge. The locals cherish this game, whether they are part of the Tramontana or Mezzogiorno teams or simply watching the competition. Everything takes place on this one night, but preparations continue all year long.
Before the game takes place, there's a marvelous parade in historical costume along the Lungarni (how the streets along the Arno river are commonly called) with over 700 people dressed up in 16th-century costumes. If you are looking for more details about the competition read our detailed article.
Just a reminder that all of these events are very popular and draw thousands of visitors every year: if you plan to attend any of them, keep in mind that the city will be crowded and traffic will be extremely chaotic. If you plan to stay longer than just one night, think ahead and reserve early, especially if you would like to attend both the Luminara and the Regatta Take a look at this page that offers accommodations in Pisa.
In addition, try to plan on using public transport if you can: Pisa is very well connected to the most important Tuscan destinations by train. On the 16th & 17th, the RFI local transport services organize a special train in the direction of Florence with stops at Cascina, Pontedera, San Miniato, Empoli. Departing at 1.15 am. The final destination is Florence Santa Maria Novella, arriving around 2:30 am.
In addition, as of 2017 you can make use of the PisaMover! It comes into Pisa from all directions, in particular from Aurelia (Viareggio and Livorno) or from the highway (Cascina, Pontedera, Empoli, Florence). With just the cost of the tram ticket (1,20 Euro), you can park in one of the two parking lots for the Pisa Mover, and take the electric shuttle to the main train station which is only a stone's throw from Corso Italia and the Lungarni. The tram runs both ways: going & returning from Pisa.
Looking Forward to Pisa
Traveling Tuscany in June? Then check your itinerary and find time to fit these events in between a visit to the Leaning Tower of Pisa and time in Lucca, Livorno or Viareggio. The atmosphere of tradition, rivalry and timeless beauty of the city streets will award you with many unforgettable memories.