See the candlelit city. During a festival, the people of Pisa line the streets and church with candles. They turn off all the light of the city and just let it be lit all by candles.
(picture from postcard)
Gioco del ponte
This historically evocative event, called Gioco del Ponte, consists of two distinct but both significant parts: the historical procession along the Arno river which is a huge military parade, and the battle, that takes place on the Ponte di Mezzo during which the two opposing teams give proof of their own physical strength in a strongly competitive atmosphere.
Some sources try to date back this game to the classic antiquity. These hypotheses are not confirmed and it is more likely to be a local transformation of the Gioco del Mazzascudo, that from the XI to the XIII centuries was played as a simulated battle in the ancient Piazza degli Anziani, called today Piazza dei Cavalieri. The game was played between single players, equipped with body armour, cudgels and shields. In the final day the individual battle was replaced by a general battle where the fighters where divided into two teams, respectively called of the “cockerel” and of the “magpie”.
The first known edition of the Gioco del Ponte was held on the 22nd February 1568. The Old Bridge, now called Ponte di Mezzo, was the seat of the battle and the aim of the game was the conquest of a part or of the entire half of the bridge occupied by the opposing faction. The players of Tramontana and Mezzogiorno, were divided in a variable number of teams, of 50/60 players each. Each team had its own colours and banners.
The participants taking part in the battle, characterised by a man to man fight, wore an armour, a helmet called 'morione' and used the 'targone' a large oblong and asymmetrical shield, with rounding extremities, made out of lime or poplar wood, over a meter long and weighing around two and half kilos which was also improperly used to attack.
The violence of the fight has always been one of the unchanged characteristic of this game. The desire for autonomy from Florentine domination and the growing competitive nature of the game caused Pietro Leopoldo to find the Gioco del Ponte obnoxious, so that after the 1785 game it was abolished and was interrupted until 1807, the only time when the game was played in the XIX century.
The Gioco del Ponte was interrupted again for 128 years. It was organised again in 1935 according to the ancient historical traditions and after the Second World War, in order to avoid physical contact, a cart on rails to be pushed by participants was introduced.
The event is traditionally held on the last Sunday of June and also includes the historical parade with 709 participants. The Mezzogiorno and Tramontana Sides march separately, creating thus two parades of 314 participants each, but at the same time anticlockwise along the four streets running along the Arno river close to the Ponte di Mezzo. There is also a third parade composed by the Judges, that is 81 more participants.
More than remarkable is the scenographic effect of the participants Spanish costumes of the late XVI century, created for the edition of 1935 on the sketches of the art critic Fortunato Belloni, who got his inspiration from some prints of the Medicean age. The intensity of the effort that the twenty heavily-built men of each team put into the challenge is impressive. As in ancient times, victory goes to the team that conquers the Bridge by pushing the cart and all the opponents to the opposite end of the sliding rail. The different teams of both Tramontana (representing the districts of St. Maria, St. Francesco, St. Michele, Mattaccini, Calci and Satiri) and Mezzogiorno (representing the districts of St. Antonio, St. Martino, St. Marco, Leoni, Dragoni e Delfini) fight in turn. The winner of the game is the side that wins most of the matches. Until 1996 if the challenge ended in a draw (three victories for each side), a final match was held to decide the winner between the selected best fighters for both parties. Since 1997 only six matches were held so that the final result could end in a draw.
THE REGATTA OF SAINT RANIERI
During the afternoon of June 17th, to celebrate the patron saint of Pisa, four boats representing the most ancient districts of the city (the city is divided into four sections ideally outlined by the river Arno and by the two main streets) compete in a Regatta along the Arno river, heritage of the past glory of Pisa as an ancient maritime republic.
Each district is distinguished by its own colours: in the southern part of the city Saint Martin (white and red) and Saint Anthony (white and green); in the northern part Saint Mary (white and blue) and Saint Francis (white and yellow). This event mixes the genuine sporting passion typical of the competitive spirit and the ancient and popular tradition of boat-racing.
The Regatta di Saint Ranieri dates back to the traditional contests which were held in Pisa to celebrate the feast of the Assumption (15th August) since the Middle Ages. Ancient documents bring evidence to the fact that the prize for the winner, for competitions either on land or in water, was not only a banner, but also animals such as an ox, a ram, a pig, a cockerel and a gosling for the loser.
In addition to the contests for the Assumption and for Saint Ranieri, there were other events celebrated with similar competitions.
After the city fall under the Florentine domination (1406) the Regatta was held only from time to time: in1440, to celebrates Florence’s victory over Milan at Anghiari an unforgettable regatta was held; and in 1494, to welcome the promise of freedom from Florence given by Carlo VIII. After Florence’s definitive conquest of Pisa in 1509 the event was abolished until 1635. In 1718 for the first time the boats raced to celebrate Saint Ranieri and not the Assumption. Since 1737 the finishing line of the Regatta, now known as Saint Ranieri’s, was set in the stretch of the river in front of Palazzo Medici, on request of the Duke of Montelimar, who was a guest in one of the palaces of that area.
The boats in use today have fixed seats with eight oarsmen, a steersman and a climber.
Their structure is similar to the typical frigates of the Medicean Order of Knights of Saint Stephen. In fact, the hulls built in 1935, when the contest was revived, reproduced in smaller scale the narrow frigate-like galleys of the Order of Knights of Saint Stephen, which had side rowlocks according to tradition. The boats were made in wood, 11 metres long, 2.20 metres wide and 700 in weight; their oars were 4.60 metres long and weighed 18 kilos. They were used until 1984 when they were replaced with lighter and faster ones, made of fibre-glass.
The distance covered is 1500 metres starting upstream of the railway bridge and finishing in front of the Palazzo Medici. In order to keep the ancient contest traditions unchanged the contest has two peculiarities: the presence of the climber and the opportunity for the steersman to choose the best route.
A few hundred meters after the start, the steersman may try to surpass the other boats. For this reason the boats struggle right from the beginning of the race, when the steersmen try to surpass immediately the competing boats so as to move to the left side of the river where the counter current is weaker, and to row in the inner and shorter part of the large curve of the stretch of the Arno river close to the town. The final victory does not depend upon the arrival order of the boats but upon the climber’s skill, who after having boarded a boat anchored at the finishing line, has to climb up one of the four cables reaching the top of a ten-metre high mast hoisted on the boat in order to grasp the banner which is the symbol of the victory.
In fact, the victory depends on the colour of the triangular silk banner, called ‘paliotto’, that the climber brings down: blue is first place, white second, and red third place. A pair of goslings represents the meagre prize for the last crew to finish.
The catch of banner recalls the ancient exploits at Lepanto, when the fleet of the Knights of Saint Stephen boarded the Turkish flagship and stole the Muslim fight banner waiving on the mast of their boat. This banner is still nowadays kept in the Church of Saint Stephen of the Knights in Pisa
Every year on the night of the 16th of June the enchantment of the Illuminations of Saint Ranieri is renewed on the streets running along the river Arno (the so-called Lungarni). In fact, following an ancient tradition the Pisans celebrate their patron saint, St. Ranieri, of the following day.
There are about seventy-thousand wax candles which at every edition are meticulously set in smooth and white glasses and fixed then onto wooden white-painted frames, modelled in such a way as to exalt the outline of the palaces, of the bridges, of the churches and of the towers reflecting on the river. The exceptional appendix to this scenery is the leaning tower, enlightened in the same old fashion with oil lamps, set also on the crenulations of the city walls in the area encircling the Piazza dei Miracoli.
After the lighting, because of the reverberation of the myriad of trembling lights on the Arno and because of the candles that are left floating on its waters, the event offers the visitor a unique feeling impossible to describe thanks to the ecstatic enchantment that since antiquity makes the Pisan nights of the 16th June magic.
On the 25th of March 1688, the urn containing the body of Ranieri degli Scaccieri, patron saint of the city who died as a saint in 1161, was placed inside the chapel dedicated to the Crowned Virgin in the Cathedral of Pisa. Cosimo III Medici asked that the old urn containing the relic was changed with a more modern and richer one.
The translation of the urn was the occasion for a memorable feast, from which, following the tradition, started the three-year illuminations of Pisa, first called Illumination and that then during the nineteenth century took the name of Luminara.
The idea of celebrating the feast by enlightening the town with oil lamps was still not conceived at that time, but it was an ancient habit gradually consolidated during particularly solemn and joyful events having nothing to share with the worship of the patron saint. There is clear evidence of this tradition: on the 14th of June 1662 (before the translation of Saint Ranieri’s body) the Illumination was made in honour of Marguerite Louise, princess of Orléans and wife of Cosimo II, who passed through Pisa on her way to Florence. There is also evidence of some previous editions such as the one organised in honour of Victoria della Rovere on occasion of the night feast for the carnival in 1539.
Started as illuminations of the windows of the houses during parades or procession, the Luminara, following the new scenographical fancy of the time, in the XVIII century it became a free enlightened architecture placed on buildings, of which progressively they redesigned the outline creating strange shapes that transformed the city and especially the banks along the river. In some cases the illuminations still underlined the real structure of the buildings.
The history of the Luminara constantly followed the one of the city. It was abolished in 1867, then restored in 1937 on occasion of the resumption of the Gioco del Ponte and then suspended during the Second World War. In 1952 the Luminara of Saint Ranieri was resumed and the tradition lasted until 1966.
In November of the same year the violence of the floods of the river Arno caused the collapse of the Solferino bridge and of long stretches of the banks along the river. The Luminara was then suspended again, and finally revived in June 1969.
You have to walk along Lungarno (the street running along the river Arno) during the sunset... it's beautiful!!
I'll show you some traditional event:
La Regata di S. Ranieri
Il gioco del Ponte
(see the others general trips)
spend some time in Nedo's Restaurant. it's a very beautiful local cucina!
the best I suppose
Fondest memory: i miss too much nedo's cook