San Giovanni Festivities 2022: Renaissance Parades, Sports & Fireworks


San Giovanni festivities will end with a spectacular fireworks display

After a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19, Florentines will finally be able to celebrate San Giovanni, the patron saint of the city also known as St. John the Baptist, with an event-filled day on June 24.

On the same date, the Florentine towers, gates and fortresses, including the Tower of San Niccolò, will reopen to the public for the first time since last summer. 

The origins of honoring San Giovanni, who became patron saint after Florence’s complete conversion to Christianity, date back to the 13th century, when nobles and lords would donate beautifully-decorated candles and votive offerings to the churches for the saint’s birthday.

A historical procession kicks off the commemoration at 8:30 am, during which the Florentine Republic’s authority figures parade from the Loggia del Bigallo along Via de’ Calzaiuoli until reaching Palazzo Vecchio, where the Cross of San Giovanni is given to the mayor. This year’s cross was made and donated by goldsmith Paolo Penko and inspired by the one in the painting, “San Giovanni Battista” by Jacopo del Casentino. Traced back to 1330, the painting is currently on display at the El Paso Art Museum.

The Historical Parade of the Florentine Republic will leave Palazzo Vecchio for the Baptistery at around 9:30 am. For the first time, two celebratory artistic candles will be included in the parade, one from the Society of St. John the Baptist and one from the Municipality of Florence.

At 10 am, the Ceri, the centuries-old custom of offering candles, will be held in the Baptistery of San Giovanni, one of the most ancient churches in Florence. 

The celebration continues with a Solemn Holy Mass in the cathedral led by Archbishop Giuseppe Betori at 10:30 am, with musical performances by the Pueri Cantores of Santa Maria del Fiore with the Musical Chapel of the Cathedral and children’s voices of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino.

Another historical parade starts at 4 pm, during which people in period costumes start at Piazza Santa Maria Novella and move in the direction of Piazza della Signoria for the Ceremony of the Reception of the Magnificent Messere.

The parade then reaches Piazza Santa Croce, where the Azzurri team of Santa Croce and the Rossi team of Santa Maria Novella face off in the highly-anticipated final match of the San Giovanni tournament at 6 pm. A mix between rugby, soccer and wrestling, the Calcio Storico Fiorentino game originated in 16th century Florence and will consist of players in historical costumes.

Originally only played by the upper class, the official rules of the Calcio Storico were first published in 1580. Piazza Santa Croce will be covered in sand for the match, giving attendees a feel for what it would’ve been like in the past, with bleachers also set up for a better view.

Those who were not able to buy tickets will still be able to follow the game’s live coverage on Toscana TV or stream on Dazn.

At 6:30 pm, the Palio of San Giovanni, a rowing competition, will begin in the Arno. Small boats from each of Florence’s historic districts will challenge each other: Santo Spirito, Santa Maria Novella, Santa Croce and San Giovanni.

The day draws to a close at 10 pm with the traditional firework show, “Fochi di San Giovanni,” which launches from Piazzale Michelangelo.

This year, the fireworks have been enhanced to show an incredible display of light by using computerized choreographies that will last around 40 minutes. In addition to the classic depictions of butterflies and waterfalls, a new weeping willow and lilies, the symbol of Florence, will be represented in the show. 

A concert of the Fanfare of the Scuola Marescialli and Brigadieri dei Carabinieri of Florence conducted by Alessandro Masti precedes the firework show.

The day’s myriad of events are organized by the San Giovanni Battista Society, in collaboration with the CR Firenze Foundation and Municipality of Florence. 

The holiday continues to educate new generations on the city’s history, said Luigi Salvadori, president of Fondazione CR Firenze, which has financed the celebration for over 90 years.  (natasha sokoloff)