After being an ex-pat for the past year and a half, I felt that I had some making up to do to my country when the 4th of July showed up yesterday. So, like a true patriot, I suited up in my American flag bikini, found my best pair of cut off jean shorts, and slipped into some $2 Old Navy flip flops. After a day of sparklers, barbeques, and bomb pops I spent my night how any true-blooded American should and drove up to the highest hill in town to watch fireworks with my family. However, as the red, white and blue exploded above me, I couldn’t help but feel like I was cheating on my country just a bit. I wasn’t thinking about my forefathers or my freedom or bald eagles. Sure, I was in Kansas, the heart of America, but my mind was elsewhere. I was taken back to Florence on June 24th, 2011 – my first experience with the Feast Day of San Giovanni.
So what is San Giovanni and why is it prime fodder for the Florence for Freeblog? San Giovanni (St. John the Baptist) is the patron saint of Florence. In Italy patron saints are a big deal, and they must be celebrated accordingly. Therefore, every June 24th good ol’ St. John gives us an excuse to bring out our inner Florentine, go to museums and special events, and participate in amazing local traditions – all for free! Wake up and get dressed in your favorite Florentine purple shirt (I promise it’s more fun if you really get into it). If you have always had a burning desire to watch men in multi-colored tights play drums and throw flags, head to Piazza della Signoria around 9:00 AM. The parade starts on 1 Via del Corso at 9 and will end in the piazza around 9:30, where the Renaissance men and maidens will meet the mayor of Florence. Do some googling, ask your hotel or hostel concierge, or check out The Florentine (a great English newspaper) for special freebies today. Usually there are museums or monuments that often charge admission but today you can visit for free. This past San Giovanni, the Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza Signoria opened up its tower to the public for the first time. Entrance was free and I have no doubt that the views were killer. Keep your eyes peeled for similar steals around town.
That afternoon you might decide that you didn’t get enough “man thigh” earlier and want to see another parade. Again, I would recommend claiming your spot in Piazza della Signoria. The parade leaves from the church of Santa Maria Novella (west side of town) at 4 PM and arrives in Piazza Santa Croce (east side of town) at 5 PM, passing through Piazza della Signoria on the way. But this parade is a little different from it’s morning counterpart. Instead of solemnly processing with a relic of St. John, this is a procession of the beastly, testosterone filled, roid-raging men of Calcio Storico. Eh-hem…what?
Calcio Storico is a 500-year-old game of soccer that takes place in the Santa Croce piazza-turned-sandpit stadium. It is essentially soccer without rules – well you can’t kill an opponent but pretty much everything else goes. The game these men march to is the final round of a tournament that has been going on for a week in which the four quartieri, or neighborhoods, of Florence compete. The game costs 20 euro, which is not free, but if you still want to see these modern day gladiators, some intense neighborhood pride, and more colorful men in tights playing the drums, definitely check out the parade. Finally, cap off your uniquely Florentine day by watching the fireworks at 10:30PM. They are shot off from Piazzale Michelangelo and can be seen from most places in the city. Because Florence is small and surrounded by hills, it is also great to get a little bit out of town and watch the show from above. Who knows, maybe as you watch the purple explode above you, you’ll be thinking of America and our beloved 4th of July, but most likely you’ll be thanking St. John for your perfect, and perfectly free, Florentine day.