On the 24th of June the city celebrates it’s patron saint, San Giovanni Battista, who english speakers know as St. John the Baptist, with the Festa di San Giovanni Battista in Florence. This saint has long been connected with the city of Florence and has been celebrated since the 13th century.
The entire day is filled with festivities, beginning with an early morning mass in the Baptistery of the main cathedral – Duomo, The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore.
Next is a procession that begins at the Palazzo Vecchio, made up of the cities political leaders and representatives from each of the cities historic districts and members of the Society of Saint John the Baptist, carrying silk flags, to The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore.
When the procession reaches the Duomo, votive offerings are made to the holy relic of Saint John the Baptist which is brought through the historic “Gate of Paradise” door in the Baptistery as the procession continues.
In the afternoon are the finals for an important soccer event the Calcio fiorentino in the Piazza Santa Croce. Once a game played by aristocrats and popes, it differs from modern soccer as it is played using both feet and hands with plenty of pushing and head-butting too. A costumed procession, The Historic Parade of the Republic of Florence, proceeds the much anticipated game, starting from the Piazza Santa Maria Novella .The entire piazza is filled with sand and the players are dressed in medieval costume. The game begins with the cry, “Viva Firenze!” Tickets are needed to attend this event.
In 2012, the dynamic new mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, established a cultural festival “ designed to celebrate the life and inspiration of the city’s Patron Saint and to provide work for local artists and musicians.” This year the cultural festival will be held from June 21-15. Piazzas and palazzos will be filled with musical concerts and a contemporary art exhibition with the theme of what San Giovanni means to the artists, as Florentines. Check the festival website as the date grows closer for up-to date information on scheduled events.
The day ends with an hour long fireworks display in the Piazzale Michelangelo. Many Florentine take a picnic and sit on the banks of the Arno River. Other good spots with a view of the fireworks are the Ponte Vecchio and the Piazza Signora.