This event takes place on the eve of the patron saint’s feast day (June 16) and transforms the lungarni into a phantasmagoric fairy-tale setting. The architectural details of the palaces – windows, cornices, balconies – the parapets of the river and the bridges glow in the reflected light of over 70,000 ‘lumini’ (small glass lamps burning oil or wax) while thousands of lighted candles float on the waters of the Arno. Sham architecture (‘machines’) and a firework spectacle at the Cittadella Vecchia make this event, which dates back to 1688, even more fascinating.
In that year (on March 25th) the urn containing the mortal remains of Saint Ranieri, patron saint of Pisa, was placed in the Cappella dell’Incoronata in the Cathedral (thereafter dedicated to the saint). The Luminara, or better the Illumination of Pisa, as it was called around the 19th century, has been held every year since then, except for a few interruptions. The custom of celebrating in the city with the lighting of fires, bonfires and explosion of gunpowder is documented as early as the 15th century and a real ‘illumination’ seems to have existed before its official beginnings.
On June 14, 1662, Pisa celebrated the passage through the city of Margherita Luisa d’Orleans, wife of Cosimo II, with an abundance of candles, lights and cannon salvoes. As the centuries passed, the custom became ever more spectacular, in particular thanks to the regular use of the ‘machines’ which altered and transformed the actual architectural views along the Arno. A particularly magnificent edition of the Luminara was held when the King of Naples visited the city (june 16, 1836).
Each June Pisa honours its patron saint – San Ranieri – with a great regatta and a night-time "luminaria" along both banks of the River Arno. Historic buildings are romantically lit with candles or burning torches – some 50,000 in all – creating a most evocative mood, reflecting softly in the placid waters. The regatta takes place on the evening of 16 June and the illuminations are enhanced by a parade of antique boats with costumed crews. A historical river race takes place on the following day, contested by teams from the four quarters of the city. The luminaria are repeated in the evening, to commemorate the 1688 moving of the ashes of the Saint, the first occasion on which the city was bathed in lights.
The Regata Storica di San Ranieri
A regatta race in the Arno was first noted in 13th century for the Palio of the Assumption. In the 17th and 18th centuries, after its rules were specified, the race was combined with the Festival of Saint Ranieri, Patron Saint of Pisa, creating the present-day tradition.
The boats used are fregate with eight oarsmen plus the helmsman and a montatore who must climb to the top of a 10 meter high pennon and take the victory Palio which is located on a barge anchored in the middle of the Arno. There are four boats which participate in the Regata representing the four historical neighborhoods of the city: San Martino, white-red, SantoAntonio, white-green, Santa Maria, white-blue and San Francesco, white-yellow.
The race takes place against the current at a distance of 2,000 meters with the finish near Ponte della Fortezza. According to tradition, the last-place team is given a couple of white geese as a sign of mockery.
The regatta is very important in the four neighborhoods and the inhabitants participate passionately in its organization and follow the race with great emotion.