The 24th of June, coinciding with the Summer Solstice, marks the birthdate of St. John the Baptist. A holiday, known as the Festa di San Giovanni, is celebrated in Florence with parades, merriments, and a spectacular firework exhibition!
The History of the Holiday
St. John the Baptist is the patron saint of love, loyalty, friendships, and authors. Before the conversion to Christianity, Florence’s patron was the god Mars—not a step too far from St. John, as both represented a noble, fighting spirit. During the ancient Pagan era, celebrants would light festive bonfires to mark the Summer Solstice; centuries later, the tradition continues with the lighting of fireworks for the community to enjoy and rejoice under.
The celebrations in Florence
In Florence until 1826, the fireworks were projected from Piazza della Signoria; however, due to an unfortunate fire, the ceremonial sparklers have been moved to Piazzale Michelangelo. During the Renaissance, Florentine men of fifteen years and above brought a candle offering to the Baptistery for the feast. Private houses, palaces, and work premises were splendidly decorated. Piazza del Duomo, between the Baptistery and the Cathedral, was covered by an ornamented heaven; a vast awning hung on taut cords. On the eve of the feast, a solemn procession was held.
The Feast of St. John the Baptist has been celebrated in Florence since medieval times, and certainly in the Renaissance, with festivals sometimes lasting three days from June 21 to 24—such ceremonies that represent the power and grandeur of Florence.
How Florence celebrates today
Now, throughout the 24th of June, both citizens and tourists spend their day participating in a closely spaced succession of events in the city. At 9 am, there is a flag bearers’ procession and a parade of people wearing traditional Renaissance costumes which starts at Palazzo Vecchio and ends at the Baptistery in Piazza del Duomo. Various political figures participate in the procession, including the Mayor. Once the procession arrives in Piazza del Duomo, the Archbishop of Florence receives the offering of candles and everyone proceeds into the cathedral to celebrate holy mass.
In the afternoon, attendees split their time between the traditional rowing race on the River Arno and the final match of “Calcio Storico” in Piazza Santa Croce. Calcio Storico is the historical Renaissance sport that is a mix of football, rugby, and wrestling. Before the match, at 4 pm, a historical parade starts from Piazza Santa Maria Novella and proceeds through the city center to arrive in Piazza Santa Croce.
Finally, between 10 and 11 pm, the people enjoy watching the spectacular firework show from various places in Florence, like Ponte Santa Trinita. Festa di San Giovanni is a day to celebrate life, spirit, and comradeship!
Post by Nadia Mayne