Pisa‘s patron saint, San Ranieri, whose feast day is on Monday, June 17, is celebrated with traditional special events starting the evening before which illuminate the city and fill the river with light and sports.
June 16 ‘Candle in the Water’ Event
Just as the sun sets, beautiful lights shine across the water as candles float along the Arno River. This isn’t the famous lantern scene from Tangled, but Pisa’s Luminara di San Ranieri on Sunday, June 16.
On the day before the official holiday of patron saint San Ranieri, the city of Pisa lights up. Candles placed in glass containers decorate the city: historic buildings will all have beeswax candles around the windows.
At sunset, even more candles in containers are placed to float down the Arno river. All in all, about 100,000 candles are used in the celebrations. The whole scene resembles a recreation of the music video for “Candle on the Water” from Pete’s Dragon. At 9 pm, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the walls of Pisa will be illuminated.
The night ends with a fireworks display, visible from all corners of the city, that are based from the citadel and other scattered platforms, at the end of the night.
The tradition has a rather gruesome beginning. On March 26, 1688, Cosimo III de’ Medici had the urn in the Pisa Cathedral, which contained the ashes of San Ranieri, who died in 1161, substituted with one that was more elaborate. Candles were lit all over Pisa in tribute. Over the centuries, this has transmuted into candles on the water. (katy rose sparks)
June 17: Race for Neighborhood Pride
The festivities continue on Monday, June 17, the day officially dedicated to San Ranieri, with a special rowing race in his name.
With roots in a 13th century practice of racing along the Arno river to honor the Assumption of Mary, the current Regatta di San Ranieri was established in 1718. Four teams of 10, representing Pisa’s four most prominent districts, row 1,500m (about 5,000 ft.) from the Railway Bridge to the Medici Palace in boats inspired by those used in the 16th century.
Once they reach the finish line, a designated climber will jump on a barge and climb one of four ropes to the top of a flagpole. The first to the top secures the light blue flag, and victory for their neighborhood with it. Second and third place take white and red flags, respectively, while the final team is saddled with a pair of geese — a holdover from medieval times when animals were awarded as prizes.
The seizing of the flag references the battle of Lepanto, a 16th century naval conflict that saw the Ottomans suffer a massive defeat by the Holy League. In a famous moment in Pisan history, the Knights of San Stefano, a Tuscan order founded by Cosimo I de’ Medici, boarded the Turkish flagship and took their standard. The original flag is now housed in a church named after the chivalric order, open to tourists for only 1.50€.
As with the Luminara event, everything really begins around sundown, when a procession along the Arno leads the competitors to their starting spot. This year, the race will kick off at 10:30 pm from the Railway Bridge, and no fee is required to watch. (alex harrison)