the unforgetable nightlights and colors
Throughout the month of June, Pisa hosts a series of celebrations that fill the city with a festive atmosphere, music and explosive colors. That’s why the so called Giugno Pisano is a major event awaited not only by city residents but also by many people from the surroundings that attend every year.
Just as Florence, Pisa's major historical rivals, celebrates its patron saint in June, so does Pisa. On June 17, Pisa has been celebrating the feast day of San Ranieri for hundreds of years thus making the celebrations part of its cultural identity. The main and very popular celebrations are the Luminara, the Regatta and the Battle of the Bridge (this last one inspiring similar games all over Tuscany).
reflections of Pisa on the Arno
The event that opens the San Ranieri festivities is the Luminara as it takes place on the evening of June 16, the eve of the patron saint’s feast day. After sunset, over 70,000 candles are set inside wooden frames fitted onto the buildings along the Arno river and lit, which highlight their architectural profiles. Their reflection on the river waters offers a spectacular show, one you'll find youself admiring open-mouthed as the city glows. Even if the Square of Miracles is not along the river, on this day you will want to be along the river to take in the breathtaking view.
The tradition of the Luminara dates back to 1688 and has been celebrated every year since then (aside from a few exceptional interruptions), and delights and amazes tourists and locals alike. As the only conclusion to the evening, a wonderful fireworks show goes off around 11pm. 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
the long-standing competition within the city
In the late afternoon of June 17, the celebrations move onto the Arno river where the four neighborhoods of the city compete/battle against each other in honor of the ancient city nautical tradition. Pisa was, at one time, 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".
If you’re wondering why a climber is part of a regatta team, you should know that its this person who at the end of the rowing competition is supposed to ensure the victory for his "quartiere". The first boat that arrives at a deck with 4 flags at the very top of 10 meter poles is not yet the winner - the climber of the team that first grabs the right color wins the regatta! Blue stands for victory, white for second place and red for third. It sounds interesting and exciting, doesn’it?
This event, deeply rooted in local tradition, was played in moments of peace and prosperity during the past; we’ve posted pictures when we went here. If you’re considering being in Pisa for the Luminara, we highly recommend spending the night and also going to the Regatta.
The Battle of the Bridge
a thousand year challenge
After the Luminara and the Regatta, Pisa hosts another event deeply rooted in tradition, yet not on or around the city's patron saint day. This gives you the opportunity to see Pisa in a particular light should you be there later in the month, as the Battle of the Bridge is held on the last Saturday in June.
As the name suggests, this tug-of-war competition takes place on one of the bridges that cross the Arno river in Pisa, the Ponte di Mezzo. The quarters of the city are divided into two teams depending on their position - Tramontana for the north of Arno, 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 side's of the bridge. All locals cherish this game, whether they are part of the Tramontana or Mezzogiorno teams or simply watching the game: the battle of the bridge, in fact, is just one night long, but preparations continue year long, involving almost all of the city.
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. Try to imagine this competition about 1000 years ago when the game actually came into being: since then (except for a few periods when the event was held intermittently), the battle of the bridge has always been held to show how important it is as a local custom. For further details, read this article.
I would just like to remind you that all of these events are very popular and draw thousands of visitors every year: if you plan to attend any of them, bear in mind that the city will be crowded and traffic will be extremely chaotic. So make sure to use public means of transport if you can, Pisa is very well connected to the most important Tuscan destinations by train. You’ll find more information about rails stations at the end of the article about the Battle of the Bridge linked above.
If you plan to stay longer than just one night, especially if you would like to attend both the Luminara and the Regatta, take a look at this page that offers special deals and accommodations.
Have fun! Who will you be cheering for? :-)