On June 24, Florence commemorates the feast day for its patron saint, St. John the Baptist, believed the “icon of moral rectitude and political rightness”* on whom medieval Florence aspired to develop its economical fortune and good government of the Republic. The image of the saint was even stamped on the city’s currency, the florin.
The day has thus been a day of jubilation for the city through the generations. Every year, for St. John, the city arranges several social and folkloric events that end with the magnificent fireworks show, also known as i fochi di San Giovanni by Florentines.
The celebration feast of St. John has ancient roots: nobles and lords would rejoice in the patron saint of the city by giving large candle lights to the churches. With the expansion in the city’s importance as well as the lords, the candles became bigger, more delightfully decorated and precious. Some were made particularly for the Baptistery (which is devoted to the saint) and others were made specifically to be marketed. All money were given to the Church.
Even nowadays, the morning of June 24 sees a small civic parade that features the city’s major and other state officers, following the town by the city banner which leaves Palazzo Vecchio and symbolically takes the offering of candles to the Baptistery. There, the Archbishop of Florence receives the offering and all follow into the cathedral to celebrate holy mass (around 10:30am).
Just for the celebration, there are generally boat rides arranged on the Arno river throughout the day as well as into nightfall once the fireworks are to begin. The rides are offered by the Renaioli, who take customers onto their distinctive boats.
Opening of the San Niccolò Tower
June 24 is also used to mark the opening of the San Niccolò Tower by the Arno river. One of the oldest towers that lines the historical walls that enclosed Florence, the tower was recovered and opens to the public only throughout the summer time. The tower stays open until September 30th, every day from 5 to 8pm. Small groups go up at a time, with a guide (in Italian, English, French and Spanish). Entrance costs 4 euro. For more details and to book, you have to contact Mus.e of Palazzo Vecchio at +39 055-2768224 or +39 055-2768558.
Some events start a bit sooner than the 24th, like the yearly NOTTURNA DI SAN GIOVANNI held on the Saturday the 18th of June. This is a marathon which starts at night and tours the city streets of FLorence capturing the magic of the town with the excitement of the partecipants.
It is tradition that on June 24, the final match for Calcio Storico Fiorentino is played. The exciting game, conceived in the 16th century in Renaissance Florence, is a combination of football, rugby and wrestling. It generally gets extremely aggresive. The two teams that won the two semi-final matches between the four teams – the squads are by neighborgood and are Santa Croce (blue), Santo Spirito (whites), Santa Maria Novella (reds) and San Giovanni (green) – play on June 24th at 5pm on the special field set up on Piazza Santa Croce for the entertainment of both residents and tourists alike.
Tickets can be purchased online on Boxol.it; we suggest to get them in time as they generally sell out quickly.
Before the match, around 4pm, a historical parade starts from Piazza Santa Maria Novella and winds its way through the city center to get in Piazza Santa Croce.
The long day of celebration for Florence’s patron saint end with a spectacular fireworks show. The fireworks take place at some point between 10 and 11pm and are set off from dal Piazzale Michelangelo, an elevated positing that makes it easy to see them from various places across the city.
For the event, many Florentines and visitors spend the nighttime out, stopping at one of the many “strategic” points from which to admire the show of lights over the town.
Some choose to enjoy the show right from Piazzale Michelangelo but many more from the streets along the Arno called “lungarni” where there are also many areas giving refreshments and seating, such as the beach on Lungarno Serristori (right below Piazza Poggi).
In the historical center, many resorts, villas and diners that have a terrrace with a view organize special evenings with drinks, dinners and entertainment before the fireworks show.
Starting in the late afternoon, Piazzale Michelangelo and the streets nearby start being closed and substitute routes are enforced. Some of the streets along the Arno are also closed so it is best to move on foot or to park far from the location and then walk.