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Palio di San Ranieri – Magical Days in Pisa

Saint Ranieri is the patron of the Tuscan city of Pisa and of travellers. Spectacular celebrations in his honour and commemorating his death are held each year on 17 June and the previous day. The highlights are the Luminara di San Ranieri and the Regatta Storica, staged in some of the city’s most emblematic spots.

Luminara di San Ranieri – Pisa by Candlelight

On 16 June, as the sun begins to set, Pisa comes alight with the Luminara di San Ranieri. Thousands of lights appear in windows and on cornices, illuminating the outlines of buildings, churches and bridges and setting up a unique and very beautiful effect. Some 70,000 candles, known as lampanini or lumini, placed in cups and on candlesticks, are consumed in this spectacle of light. The display is magical and a stroll along the banks of the river Arno and across its bridges as you contemplate the reflections of the lights playing on the surface of the water is an unforgettable experience.

That night is the ideal time for visiting the city’s landmark buildings which, being lit up, provide an extraordinary sight. The 12th-century city walls on the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of the Miracles) frame a monumental complex consisting of the Duomo and the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Baptistery and the Monumental Cemetery – a whole historical complex enhanced by the candlelight. At 11 p.m. a great fireworks display starts up at the Cittadella Vecchia (Old Citadel), painting the sky of Pisa in a host of colours. That is when everybody congregates around the river Arno as it affords the best view of the spectacle.

Regatta Storica di San Ranieri 

On the following day, the feast of Saint Ranieri, the celebrations continue across the whole city, featuring music, dancing and banquets. Another noteworthy event in honour of the saint takes place that same day, the Regatta Storica di San Ranieri, a race between rowing boats representing Pisa’s four historical districts – San Francesco, San Martino, Santa Maria and Sant’ Antonio. The boats are reconstructions of the stefaniane, a typical rowing boat used by the Order of the Cavalieri di Santo Stefano.

Apart from the Leaning Tower, What Else is there to See?

Pisa is the jewel of Tuscany, a destination that attracts thousands of tourists eager to soak up its art and historical heritage. The birthplace of Galileo Galilei has a lot to offer, apart from the Leaning Tower. Corso Italiai s the city’s shopping precinct, the ideal place for picking up an Italian fashion garment or for enjoying the café terraces. Borgo Stretto, too, with its elegant bars and haute couture stores. This medieval alley eventually leads into the Piazza dei Cavalieri (Knights’ Square), the city’s historic centre. The square boasts centuries-old buildings, such as the Palazzo della Carovana, also known as the Palazzo dei Cavalieri, built as the headquarters of the Order of the Knights of St Stephen, which now houses one of Italy’s most prestigious universities, the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. Opposite stands the Palazzo dell’Orologio (Clock Palace) with its two medieval towers. Legend has it that this palace was built over the remains of the Torre della Fame (Tower of Hunger) where, as cited in Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, the Conte Ugolino della Gherardesca was imprisoned, together with his sons, accused of treason by the archbishop. The key to their cell was thrown into the river Arno and they all died slowly of hunger.

Incidentally, Piazza Dante is another of the city’s landmarks. It provides smooth access into the alleyways of the medieval city with its countless bars and restaurants serving Tuscan cuisine. The food is excellent in Pisa and, by avoiding the more commercial circuits around the Leaning Tower, is not necessarily expensive.

Text by Scanner FM

Images by Fabio Gismondi | elenavataga | Federico Caboni | Alex | Alessandro | Guillaume Baviere