Luminara Festival and Saint Ranieri Historical Regatta
Discover the two incredible events of Pisan June!
The San Ranieri Pisa Luminara Festival is a magical event that will make your visit to this city the most memorable of your trip to Tuscany. In June the patron saint of Pisa, San Ranieri is celebrated, with an extra celebration that starts on the evening of 16th June and continues the next day with the Luminara and Historical Regatta of Saint Ranieri on the Arno River. The so-called Pisa festival of lights in June is enriched with a special and fun Palio!
One may happen to hear the Italianate version of 'luminaria', Pisa, Italy, however, its inhabitants prefer the term luminara, as it is one of their local vernacular.
Leaving aside the disputes and lexical dialect that, for the Tuscans, are the subject of every day life, we would like to give you some information about the protagonist of these two events: San Ranieri. Pisa was the birthplace (1118) and place of death (17 June 1161) of the hermit of Ranieri Scacceri. The son of a wealthy merchant of Pisa, Gandolfo Scacceri, he spent a dissolute life up to the age of 19, when he met a hermit named Alberto. This meeting radically changed his life: Ranieri chose to abandon all vanity and wealth to pursue the path of poverty. As a pilgrim, he reached the Holy Land, where he stayed for a few years to pursue the path of Christian penance.
In 1154 he returned to his hometown, and chose to retire in the San Vito Monastery and died a few years later already enveloped by a legendary aura. It is said that, at the time of death, the ringing bells of Pisa were heard without anybody operating them. The cult and the stories about miracles of the hermit soon spread so that, in Pisa, San Ranieri became a saint during his lifetime. In the 17th century, the Archbishop of Pisa and the magistrate elected Ranieri the official patron of the city and of the diocese, but for some time the people had already considered him as such instead of the previous one (San Sisto).
In 1688 the remains of St. Ranieri of Pisa were placed on the high altar of the Cathedral, replacing the ancient urn with a more important one, following the request of Cosimo III de 'Medici. During the night of the removal of the urn, the Pisa inhabitants lit up their homes to pay homage to the patron saint and to shed light on the passage of the procession. Another tradition says that the night of San Ranieri Pisa would have originated from the day of death of the saint; another story says that this lit procession existed in earlier times to honour the Virgin Mary. It is clear, however, that the devotion of the citizens and the history of the Luminara Festival Pisa both have ancient origins.
In Pisa, the festival of St Ranieri was born after a major event that has meant that the city was looking for hope through a new patron. The date of the celebration of the previous patron saint was abandoned after a moment of great crisis for the Republic of Pisa. Let’s take a step back: in 1284, during the naval battles between the maritime republics (in which Pisa took part), the famous battle of Meloria occurred. The Pisani decided to challenge the Genoese at Meloria Shoals on 6th August, chosen as auspicious as it was the day of celebration of San Sisto, the patron saint of the time. On this occasion, however, Pisa suffered a tough defeat and lost the dominance on the seas of the port of Pisa. From this tragic event, the devotion of the city for the saint changed and it seems that this has caused the saint to be replaced with a new patron, namely San Ranieri. Pisa lost an important battle but still remained a Republican power at least until the 15th century.
Following this quick review of the history and life of the saint, we can focus on the Pisa June Festival event of the so-called Pisa Luminara Festival in June and the Palio di San Ranieri. Thanks also to the Game of Bridge, June is one of the most interesting months to visit the city of the Leaning Tower!
Make a note of these dates: 16th and 17th June. The festival of San Ranieri, in fact, takes place from the evening of 16th until the late afternoon of 17th June. In sum, you now know who San Ranieri was, you have learnt that Luminaria or Luminara in Pisa, Italy is an ancient tradition and you know when it takes place… you are now wondering what it is all about!
16th JUNE: LUMINARA SAN RANIERI
Every year on 16th June, the night of St Ranieri, Pisa and the Arno riverside are transformed as if by magic thanks to the establishment of about 70,000 lights by wax candles. These candles are put in special glasses, set on wooden frames painted with white paint (the frames are called by Pisa with the name of 'linen' because from a distance they look like just hanging sheets!) and modelled following the profiles of windows, roofs and eaves of the city buildings and bridges that are seen along the river. The Leaning Tower, however, shines thanks to countless oil pans placed on the walls surrounding Piazza dei Miracoli and along the contours of the Catherdral and the Baptistry.
The Pisa San Ranieri Luminaria is an outdoor show that it is not easy to describe.
The spell, however, does not end there: a myriad of candles are left floating on the Arno River and to the natural current! These lampanini, as they are called by the people of Pisa, together create true wonders of light choreography. The resistance of these flames and their power is due to a particular recent type of manufacture; glass tumblers were once used as containers, which, for safety reasons, have been changed with others made of a special plastic more suitable for this use. Every year hundreds of workers are recruited only for this important event!
The Festival of San Ranieri begins with the lighting and you, like all Tuscans visiting Pisa for the occasion, will be speechless. The glare of the lights moved by the wind that you see on the river Arno at the mercy of the current creates a magical moment of rare beauty. Of course, the lighting of candles corresponds to the temporary shutdown of the town’s lighting.
Take advantage of the Luminara San Ranieri to make a wish come true, to dream, to meditate or to photograph.
At some point in the evening, around midnight, you will be awakened by this ancient spell thanks to bursts of fireworks fired from the Citadel and, in recent years, also from some floating platforms located along the Arno. The fireworks and flames show offers a unique setting to the palaces of the city and a perfect ending to Luminara of San Ranieri.
We suggest that you enjoy the fireworks and remain along the river, trying not to get swallowed up by the crowd that is dispersing among along the Corso and Borgo Stretto!
The evening continues with stalls of local crafts, sweet vendors, games and balloons in the streets.
San Ranieri Festival in Pisa is a tribute to a fabulous night and to enjoy a city through a unique night that takes place only once a year.
17 JUNE-PALIO OF SAN RANIERI
The following day the Historical Regatta of San Ranieri, Pisa takes place late afternoon. Enjoy the morning having breakfast in the historic centre with a slice of co' Bischeri cake or freshly baked cecina for lunch! The co' Bischeri cake, for lovers of cakes, is a traditional cake made with pastry, chocolate and rice; Cecina, on the other hand, is a dish of modest origins like a pie with the distinction of being very thin and made with chickpea flour, water, oil and salt. It should be eaten fresh from the oven!
The Regatta of Saint Ranieri has four teams representing the oldest districts in Pisa: St Francesco, St Martino, St Maria and St Antonio, who compete in a race along the Arno river. Each district, as in any self-respecting race, has its own representative colour: yellow for St Francesco, red for St Martino, blue for St Maria and green for St Antonio.
The Regatta of Saint Ranieri is preceded by the historical procession of Pisa, which recalls the former glory of the time of the Maritime Republics. With the approach of sunset the race finally starts! The Regatta of Saint Ranieri starts from the Railway Bridge, 1,500 metres of rowing against the current of the river and ends at the Medici Palace near the Fortezza Bridge. The boats you see are inspired by the ancient boats that belonged to the military order of the Knights of Saint Stefano from the 16th century. They are made of fiberglass and have fixed seats with the ability to accommodate eight rowers, a helmsman and a climber. The latter component, the climber, is the essential figure for winning the race: as he is a skilled climber! His job, on arrival at the finishing line, will be to climb on one of the 4 ropes that leads to the top of a flagpole (ten metres high) mounted on a floating barge, where he has to grab the prize, a light blue flag! There is no other way to win the Palio of St Ranieri!
For the second and third prizes there are two other flags: white and red, respectively, while for the fourth climber of the Regatta of Saint Ranieri, has in consolation a traditional and curious prize: a couple of geese! In fact, in the past, in medieval times, it was quite normal to receive animals as awards. It must be said that for the winners it was oxen, pigs or sheep and the geese were always reserved for the least important win. At the end of the day traditions must be respected!
The water race has been practiced in Pisa since the 13th century and often took place in honour of the Assumption of the Virgin, to which the city was deeply devoted. During the 18th century a fixed route for the Regatta of St Ranieri was established and the date of 17 June was established to honour the anniversary of the patron saint.
The Regatta of St Ranieri evokes and embodies an important episode in the history of Pisa: the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. The fleet of the Knights of the Order of Saint Stefano won the battle against the Ottomans and so seized the banner at the top of the opponent mast, whose image is recalled by the flagpole of the regatta. If you are curious to see this banner won by the bravery of the crew of Pisa, you can visit the Church of the Cavalieri, where it is still preserved. The square of the same name is also home to the University of the Scuola Normale, one of the most beautiful in the city and the region.
The Regatta of St Ranieri is also an example of the many races that were held on the Arno River in the centuries following the Middle Ages. During the Florentine domination there was an interruption of these games until the 17th century, a period when a religious significance to the races was given.
If, after these two days, a curiosity remains to deepen your knowledge about San Ranieri, Pisa there is a fresco by Andrea Bonaiuto in the Monumental Cemetery and another work of art by Antonio Veneziano (both are painters of 14th century). The first represented the milestones of the life of the saint: his conversion, the journey to the Holy Land, the sacrifices, the temptations, the miracles and the return home. The frescoes by Antonio Veneziano, however, depict images of death and the miracles that later took place.
This hermit and pilgrim from Pisa has left an indelible mark on his hometown, so much so that the people of Pisa still believe in the phenomenon of the so-called 'storm of San Ranieri', that is, sudden rain with which the saint every summer tests his countrymen.
Among the many legends and stories, what is most striking is the devotion to the patron of the Saint Ranieri Festival. Do not miss this fascinating and memorable Pisa Luminara Festival in Tuscany!