The Festa di San Giovanni in Florence: candles, calcio storico and “fochi”

Events to celebrate the Patron Saint of the city.

On June 24 Florence celebrates San Giovanni (Saint John the Baptist), Patron Saint of the cityAs with every religious commemoration that dates back centuries, the celebrations combine the religious and the secular and over time the day has become an opportunity to celebrate together, carrying on historic and enjoyable traditions which involve citizens and tourists alike. There’s a special event for every moment, from morning to night. 

Morning: the Candle Ceremony (La Cerimonia dei Ceri)

In the morning, the Ceremony of Candles takes place. At the centre of it all is Piazza Duomo, where you can watch the arrival of the procession of the Florentine Republic with the city authorities, which parades through the historic centre, ultimately arriving at the Baptistery where they give a symbolic offering to the Patron Saint – the candles. They candle offering is received by the Archbishop of Florence who later holds mass in the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.

Afternoon: Calcio Storico

In the afternoon you cannot miss the final match of the Calcio Storico Fiorentino (Florentine Historic Football), a quintessentially Florentine event where the four teams from the city’s historic neighbourhoods have a face-off: the Whites of Santo Spirito, the Reds of Santa Maria Novella, the Greens of San Giovanni and the Blues of Santa Croce. Every year a total of three matches are played – two semi-finals and the final – following the historic procession of the Florentine Republic, with the flag-bearers and musicians.

The competition plays out to commemorate the events that occurred during Charles V’s siege of the city, to subjugate the Florentine Republic and favour the return of the Medici, in 1530. In February of that year, during the Carnival, the people of Florence organised a match in Piazza Santa Croce to show their pride and as a way of mocking the oppressive army. Since then, on and off, with one particularly long pause between the 18th and 19th centuries, this tradition has carried on to today. In the game there is a lot of physical contact between players (seemingly born as a way to train Roman legionnaires during times of peace). The ambience is fantastic and the atmosphere, especially before the start, is intense and adrenaline-fuelled.

If you want to get your heart racing, the bleachers in Santa Croce during the final of the Calcio Storico are the place for you.

Evening: the “fochi” (fireworks)

In the evening you can marvel at the customary fireworks show, known as the “Fochi di San Giovanni”, from 10pm to 11pm. The fireworks are set off from Piazzale Michelangelo and can be seen from several points in the city and many Florentines and tourists spend the night outside just to admire them.

You could choose to watch them right there at Piazzale Michelangelo, from afar or from several vantage points, taking into account the restrictions: from the late afternoon the areas around the piazzale and some in the centre may impose traffic restrictions and some roads might be closed. Therefore, we advise you to get around on foot and if you have a car, park it far away from the centre and the main viewpoints.