Here are some of the main events that take place in Tuscany every year. Many of the events have long historical traditions going back centuries. Just think of the Palio in Siena, a very important city event which occurs twice every year which has its roots in the 6th century. The long tradition holds for the all the celebrations that occur on the feast day of a city's patron saint, from the largest town to the smalled village. Wherever you go in Tuscany, at any time of the year, you'll likley find an event or celebration taking place. Here, you'll find a list of annual events in Florence.
We have monthly articles with upcoming events which are updated the month before - you can take a look at them in the Events in Tuscany page to get an idea of what else to expect.
The busiest season of the year when events abound across the region. A few overlap but generally they are spread out so that you should find something interesting to see whenever you are here.
Pisa - Luminara, Regatta of St. Ranieri and Battle of the Bridge - JUNE
June is a busy month for Pisa, and the many events that take place all fall under its "Giugno Pisano". On the night of June 16, the Luminara begins the festivities to honor Saint Ranieri, the patron saint of Pisa, the following day, June 17. Over 70,000 candles light up the palaces along the Arno river, with a fireworks display afterwards.
To celebrate the patron saint of Pisa, four boats representing the most ancient districts of the city compete in the Regatta of Saint Ranieri along the Arno river, heritage of the past glory of Pisa as an ancient maritime republic.
A week later, on the last Saturday of June, Pisa reenacts the Battle of the Bridge, a medieval "tug of war" contest which takes place on the central bridge in Pisa. The contest is preceded by a huge procession in costume through the city.
Fabulous fireworks along the Arno conclude Florence's celebrations to St. John the Baptist, the city's patron saint, on June 24. First, there is a parade in historical costume that starts at the Church of Santa Maria Novella and ends at the Church of Santa Croce, where the Calcio Storico is then played in the dirt-covered square in front of the church. The game is a combination of soccer, rugby, and big time wrestling, all played while wearing 16th century costumes. The four teams represent the four traditional neighborhoods of the city: Santa Croce (blue), Santo Spirito (white), Santa Maria Novella (red), and San Giovanni (green). The prize is a whole Chianina calf.
Arezzo's Piazza Grande is the setting of the Giostra del Saracino, or Saracen Tournament. Held twice a year, a night version on the third Saturday in June and the second on the first Sunday in September, this tournament has its origins in the early 16th century and in its present form, commemorates Christian efforts to hold back the tide of Islam in the 14th century. There is a lively and colorful procession preceding the event in which eight costumed knights charge towards a wooden representation of the Saracen, aiming to hit the Saracen's shield with lances. The target is mounted as to swivel around and can actually hit back! Each pair of knights represents one of Arezzo's four rival districts and their supporters each occupy a side of the piazza. The winner receives a golden lance.
The Palio horse race is a colorful, bareback horse race round the dirt-packed Piazza del Campo, Siena's main square, that takes place every July 2 and August 16. The contrade (traditional neighborhoods) compete for the palio, or banner, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The square is filled with costumed pageantry before the race, and massive feasts are set up on long outdoor tables that can stretch for blocks on the medieval side streets.
Pistoia - Pistoia Blues Festival, Giostra dell'Orso (suspended)- JULY
Two important events take place in Pistoia every July: the Pistoia Blues Festival and the Giostra dell'Orso. Taking place in the first half of July, the Pistoa Blues draws international blues artists who perform in the city's main square.
After a magnificent procession held on the 25th of July to honor St. James, the patron saint of the city, twelve knights take part in the Giostra dell'Orso, a medieval jousting tournament. The knights' goal is to hit two stylized bears with their lances to the sound of drum rolls and fanfares. The bear (orso) is the heraldic animal of Pistoia and the Giostra is the highlight of the towns's "Luglio Pistoiese" festival. The tournament is currently suspended as the city prepares to do a referendum to decide whether to continue it or not (after a horse was injured in 2013).
The Bravio delle Botti, which takes place on the last Sunday in August, is a barrel rolling race between the eight Contradas (divisions) of Montepulciano competing for a Palio, a painted cloth banner. The barrels (which weigh 80 kilos) have to be rolled up about 1800 meters along the main street of the town of Montepulciano to end in the Piazza Grande. Costume processions precede the competition and a street banquet follows.
Good old-fashioned medieval jousting in Arezzo on the first Sunday in September. This is the second tournament of the year, the first one already held in June. See above for more details.
Sansepolcreo - Palio della Balestra - SEPTEMBER
On the last Sunday in May, the crossbowmen of Sansepolcro travel to Gubbio (Umbria) for the Palio della Balestra, a crossbow contest between the men of of Gubbio and Sansepolcro who dress in medieval costume and use antique weapons. On the second Sunday in September, the crossbowmen of Gubbio visit Sansepolcro for a rematch.
Prato keeps the Virgin Mary's girdle under heavy lock and key year-round in the Duomo, but takes it out five times a year amid much religious pomp and some medieval drum rolling to show it to the crowds massed on the piazza. Two of these occassions include September 8 (celebration of the nativity of the Virgin Mary) and December 25 and 26. The rest of the time, Prato's most revered relic is housed in the beautiful "Pulpit of the Sacred Girdle" off the facade's right corner. The story of how the girdle arrived in Prato is detailed in the chapel immediately to the left of the entrance in Agnolo Gaddi's fresco cycle of "The Legend of the Holy Girdle (1392-95)".
Epiphany Celebrations - across all of Tuscany
Roman Catholic Epiphany celebrations are held throughout Italy on January 6. Most of the cities in Tuscany will have celebrations in the main squares. In Florence, in particular, you have the Cavalcade of the Wise Men through the center of town, from Palazzo Pitti to Piazza del Duomo.
During the period before Ash Wednesday, many towns stage carnivals and enjoy their last opportunity to indulge before Lent. The popular carnival celebrations held at Viareggio are among the best known in all of Italy, with masked pageants, fireworks, a flower show and parades along the Tuscan Riviera. Carnevale in San Gimignano and Florence are much smaller, with locals dressed up in colorful costumes marching through the streets. The biggest celebration is, of course, held in Venice.
The big event in Florence for Easter is the Scoppio del Carro, or the "explosion of the cart", an event which dates back 300 years. Today, an elaborate wagon built in 1622 and standing two to three stories high is dragged through Florence behind a fleet of white oxen decorated in garlands to the square between the Baptistry and Cathedral. The cart has been properly rigged with a suitable arsenal of fireworks so that when a dove-shaped rocket (symbolising the Holy Spirit) slides down a steel cable at full speed from the Cathedral altar, it will set off a ferocious dance of fire on impact. A big bang ensures a good harvest, and a parade in medieval costume follows. The Explosion of the Cart takes place around 11 a.m. so watch out for the cart on the streets of Florence an hour beforehand.
From late April through June, the Florence Maggio Musicale, May Music Festival, is a series of internationally acclaimed classical music concerts and recitals, opera and ballet in venues across the city. Tickets can be hard to come by, so check the online schedule and purchase tickets in advance.