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Luminara and Regatta of San Ranieri

Luminara or illumination and the race conducted in the name of the patron saint of Pisa are two wonderful summer events in Tuscany, Italy. The Luminara is conducted on the night of June 16 and the race of San Ranieri is conducted on June 17th in the afternoon. The luminara is actually a candlelight festival that illuminates both the banks of the river Arno. Thousands of candles lighted on every architectural contour of palaces and other antique buildings produce an ethereal experience.

This festival is conducted by the people of Pisa to honor the saint who is believed to be their protector. The festival has its origin in the 17th century when the urn containing the remains of Saint Ranieri was brought to the town in 1668. It was placed in the Cappella dell'Incoronata.

The precious remains were transferred into a better urn at the command of Cosimo III. The occasion was marked by a grand city feast and the famous Luminara of Pisa.

The custom of celebrating an event with the abundance of candle light had actually started a few years before, in 1661, when an important lady, Margherita Luisa d’Orleans, wife of Cosimo II, had passed through Pisa. Thereafter, the citizens of Pisa made it a habit to celebrate all the important events with candle light and fireworks.

Before sundown the buildings and the parapets of the river Arno are fixed with candles and other lamps. With the sundown all these come alive with bright light that shimmers on the river. 

Apart from the reflected light, the river is also ablaze with thousand of floating candles. The night becomes altogether magical. The sham architecture and the magnificent fireworks at Cittadella Vecchia make the event more memorable and mesmerizing.

The interesting boat race in the name of the patron saint ‘the Regatta of San Ranieri’ takes place in the afternoon of the next day. The four quarters of the town wearing four different colors take part in the colorful boat race that starts from the train bridge across the river Arno. The race course is 1500 meters long and the contestants are supposed to row a boat with fixed seats against the current. Six oarsmen, a helmsman and a climber or a montatore makes the crew.

The race ends in front of the Palazzo Medici near the Ponte della Fortezza. The racers are to row their boats to reach a boat anchored at the finishing line. There will be a 10 meter pole with three flags, denoting the first three places, hoisted on it. The blue is the victory flag. The white denotes the second place and the red the third place. The boat that reaches the anchored boat and climbs the rope to the top of the post to get the appropriate flag wins the respective places in the race. The boat that reaches fourth will be teased with the gift of a pair of geese. So the winning depends on the climber as much as the oarsmen.

The luminara will be once again repeated in the night of June 17th with great enthusiasm. These two magical nights with thousands of candles along the outlines of every building and the banks of the river and the colorful fireworks that explode into the night sky with millions of colorful fire droplets offer a lifetime memory to the visitors.

by Marina Chernyak

Marina Chernyak
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