San Giovanni, the night between magic and tradition
This year, Florence will not have its beautiful fireworks in honor of San Giovanni, patron of the city. The “fires” as they are called here in Tuscany, have been one of the most beloved and followed traditions for centuries. However, as a result of the COVID 19 epidemic, for this party, like many others, we will have to wait until next year. The mayor, Dario Nardella, has announced that there will be an online event on June 24, as will happen in Turin and Genoa, other cities in Italy that share the cult of the Saint with Florence. But why is this tradition so important to provoke much sadness at its absence and the need to commemorate it, even in a different way, despite everything?
The Roman Florence had chosen the god Mars as its protector and nothing changed until the 6th century AD, when the Longobardi, who controlled the city, decided that San Giovanni Battista would be the new patron, even though, the official celebration of the saint took place on the thirteenth century. Most of the original festival traditions have been preserved, with a few exceptions. For example, there is no longer the Palio dei Cocchi, a horse and carriage race that took place on June 23 at Piazza Santa Maria Novella. Even today, the two obelisks that decorate the square recall the existence of the canopy, commissioned by Cosimo I and which lasted until 1858.
The various processions that traverse the city and link the most important buildings remain a central attraction of the celebrations: from Palazzo Vecchio to the Baptistery and the Cathedral for the mass and offering of votive candles. Then, from Piazza Santa Maria Novella to Piazza Duomo and Piazza della Signoria, to finish at Piazza Santa Croce. At one point, the union between the Duomo and the Baptistery was made even more evident thanks to a canvas roof that connected the two buildings calling it heaven. The city authorities, the figures of the historical procession and the Florentine clergy participate in these parades.
As the day progresses, the civic and religious tone is set aside with the last game of the famous Calcio Storico, where the four districts of the city center face each other (the blues of Santa Croce, the whites of Santo Spirito, the reds Santa Maria Novella and the greens of San Giovanni) tackling in one last challenge (the goal of this ancient sport) and also in a last blow! The day ends with the fires, which were initially nothing more than a large bonfire lit under the Loggia dei Lanzi. Later, with the discovery of gunpowder, real fireworks were design, which today are based on the suggestive Piazzale Michelangelo.