San Giovanni in Florence more magical than ever
Friday 24 June a day of events with the final of the historical football, the parade and fireworks
Florence’s patron San Giovanni (St John) is commemorated in the city on 24 June. Like any ancient religious festival, the celebrations are a mixture of sacred and secular, and the day has become an occasion of collective recreation for citizens and tourists alike.
Morning: Ceremony of the Candles
The heart of the festivities is Piazza del Duomo, which sees the Procession of the Florentine Republic, with the city authorities, flag-bearers and musicians parading through the historic centre to the Baptistery.
Here they offer a symbolic gift of candles to the Patron Saint, which are received by the Archbishop of Florence before celebrating Holy Mass in the Cathedral.
Afternoon: Calcio Storico
Calcio Storico is to Florence as the Palio is to Siena. It’s played in teams and there are three matches in June, two semi-finals and the final, held on the big day, the feast of San Giovanni on 24 June. The rules are closer to rugby than football; the venue is the picturesque Piazza Santa Croce.
Fifty minutes of strength, passion, sweat, fatigue and combat (apparently the origins of the game were to keep Roman legionaries fit in peacetime), played in the vivid colours of long ago, which rapidly give way to bare torsos clashing with force and fury on a thick layer of sand which cushions falls but also makes movement heavier. The game features a great deal of physical contact, the setting is spectacular and the atmosphere - especially prior to the start - is solemn and charged with adrenaline.
This traditional city event is disputed between teams from the four historical quarters: the Whites of Santo Spirito, the Reds of Santa Maria Novella, the Greens of San Giovanni and the Blues of Santa Croce.
The game is played to commemorate Charles V’s siege of the city in 1530, to overturn the Florentine Republic and restore theMedici.
At Carnival time in that year, the Florentines organised a match in Piazza Santa Croce as a demonstration of their pride and a gesture of defiance to the enemy army. Ever since, albeit with ups and downs and a long interruption in the 18th and 19th centuries, the tradition has continued.
Evening: the ‘Fochi’
From 22:00 to 23:00 on 24 June, Florentine locals and visitors have just one thought in their heads: to watch the Fochi, fireworks, the spectacular pyrotechnics that light up the night sky for San Giovanni. The Fochi are set off in Piazzale Michelangelo, making them visible from many places in the city. The best places to enjoy the show are the banks of the Arno, but also restaurants and bars with terraces on the rooftops of buildings in the historic centre.
Alternatively, head to Fiesole, on a hill to the north-east of the city, and watch the fireworks from a little further away. Just one piece of advice: from late afternoon, the traffic around Piazzale Michelangelo and other central areas is affected, and some streets closed. So we recommend getting around on foot or, if you’re travelling by car, avoid the area.