Pisa: festival of lights

During the month of June, you can enjoy a series of really interesting events that transform the streets of Pisa, bringing together the locals and tourists alike. The celebrations are in honour of the patron saint of Pisa, Ranieri Sacceri, who died in 1161.

The Saint Ranieri party starts on June 17th. And for this, the city really does dress itself up. In the days before the actual celebrations, the buildings on the Lungarni are covered in wooden boards called biancherie for the white colour. The boards highlight the architectural forms of the riverside buildings and support thousands and thousands of display lights that are hung for the festival.

At sunset of June 16th the lights are switched on, and the water in the Arno becomes illuminated with the sparkling points of light. This is a sight that takes your breath away, rows and rows of these lights reflected in the Arno. The luminara – the name the Pisans use for this spectacular custom – brings thousands of people to the riverbanks, and at midnight there is a hugh fireworks display.

The luminara is really just a pre-party for June 17th, which sees the annual historical boat race, in which four boats representing the four quarters of the city race each other 1500 metres along the Arno River. The winner is the one which demonstrates the most skills during the competition.

Some days after the celebrations of san Ranieri, generally the last Sunday of June on the Ponte di Mezzo the Bridge Game begins.

The Arno divides Pisa in two sections: Mezzogiorno, where you can find the train station and Tramontana, home to the University and Piazza dei Miracoli.

In Medieval times the Gioco del Mazzascudo, a battle of batons that took place during the Carnival in the Piazza dei Cavalieri, between the 11th and 13th Centuries.

During the era of the Medici the games moved to the city’s central bridge. Today’s Ponte di mezzo has evolved slightly in more recent years, with a machine which prevents physical contact between players.

The object of the game is to gain possession of the opposing team’s part of the bridge. The struggle takes place between 6 teams of 20 which push a wooden ram across the bridge onto the opponent’s bank.

The games are preceeded by a parade, of up to 709 characters dressed up in the style of the 15th century. There are three parts to the parade, one from each team, and the third is made up of the judges. When the three meet at the bridge the battle begins!

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