Everything You Need to Know About Italy’s Pisa Luminara Celebration

Posted June 22, 2017

Pisa luminara

Italian culture is rich in delicious food, wine and tradition. However, the country is also known for its dedication to religion and history. Nearly eighty-eight percent of Italians practice Catholicism and many of the country’s holidays celebrate Catholic tradition and saints. During the month of June, Italy celebrates the city of Pisa’s patron saint, Saint Rainerius with it’s Pisa Luminara Festival.

The History of Pisa Luminara

The Pisa Luminara festival is held every year on June 16th, on the eve of the Patron’s feast. The tradition of lighting up the city of Pisa with illumini, or candles, dates back to 1688 when Cosimo III of Medici wanted to replace the antique urn holding Saint Rainerius’ remains with a more modern urn.

Throughout history, Italians have held several illumination ceremonies using candles and bonfires to light up the city in honor of special events. The city considered replacing Saint Rainerius’ urn extremely important, so they arranged a feast and lit up the city in an “illumination.”

Today’s Celebrations of Pisa Luminara

Today, the Luminara festival continues to honor Saint Rainerius’ and have transformed in their festivities to reflect a more modern celebration. Instead of lighting up the entire city of Pisa, three special areas are lit up—the Arno River, Piazza dei Miracoli and Leaning Tower of Pisa.

More than 70,000 lumini are used along the Arno River, white wooden frames are crafted to reflect Pisa’s architecture and attached to churches, palaces, towers and bridges. Candles in small glass containers are then attached to the wooden frames and lit at sunset, creating a glowing reflection in the Arno River. Lumini are also attached to city walls surrounding the Piazza dei Miracoli, and oil lamps are used to silhouette the Leaning Tower.  

After the city is glowing with lumini, Pisa lights up the sky with a fireworks show. 

The Patron’s Feast of Pisa Luminara

The day following the Luminara festival is known as the Patron’s feast and is filled with many unique cultural events. Perhaps the most popular festivity of the celebration is the regatta, or race, in which the four quarters of Pisa (Santa Maria, San Francesco, Sant’Antionio and San Martino) compete.

Each quarter is represented by a 10-man team, including eight oarsmen, a helmsman and a “montatore,” which translates to climber. The 1,500 meter race requires teams to row upstream the Arno River, starting at the bridge used by trains to cross the river and ending in front of the Palazzo Medici. However, the winner of the race isn’t the first boat to cross the finish line. The race from the bridge to Palazzo Medici is only the first half of the competition.

The second half of the race begins once boats reach the Palazzo Medici and is the time for the team’s montatore to shine. In front of the Palazzo Medici, a boat is anchored with a pole topped with one flag for each district. Each teams’ montatore must use a rope to climb up the 10-meter pole and retrieve their team’s respective flag. The first team to retrieve their flag is crowned the winner.

Local Celebrations

Did you know that Denver offers multiple Italian-themed festivals over the summer? Check out some of the fun, family-friendly ways to celebrate Italian culture this summer:

At Mici, we take pride in our family’s Italian culture. Every holiday and family gathering is filled with fun, tradition and our family’s love of fresh wholesome food. That’s why we consider you part of our family and want to share our love of Italy with you. So for your next celebration, bring the entire family over to Mici to celebrate, or if you’re feeling adventurous, attend one of these Italian festivals in Denver this summer. You can also create your own Italian feast with some authentic stuffed zucchini flowers.