Daniel and I arrived in Pisa just ahead of “the best day of the year,” the eve of the Feast of San Ranieri, Pisa’s patron saint. Candles are installed on the building fronts along the Arno River, all electric lights are put out, and the night is launched with a fireworks show.
Almost without interruption, the Illumination of Pisa has occurred annually since 1688, when San Ranieri’s remains were placed in Pisa’s Duomo, just next to the Leaning Tower. In preparation, temporary white frames are constructed and installed on the faces of the buildings and the city’s old walls to hold the candles. These frames are designed and affixed to the buildings in such a way that when the candles are lit they suggest a greater degree of architectural detail.
Following the fireworks, there was the vague idea circulating through our group that we should be able to release Chinese lanterns over the water, but no one was sure how this would occur. We made our way to one of the banks, joined a nearby mass of people (Stefano assured us that this is a ‘typical Italian line’), hoping that the chaos we’d found had the same general function as a queue but with no real idea what was happening. Luckily, we’d joined the right disorderly mass, and after about an hour, we were in possession of lanterns. I didn’t envy the guy who’s job it was to coordinate the excited, drunken masses trying to light things on fire, but somehow everything mostly happened the way it was intended, and it was definitely worth the wait.
My only regret was that I didn’t walk over to the Leaning Tower that night. I had seen it illuminated in the skyline that evening from Laura’s balcony, but I didn’t realize at the time that it, too, was lit with candles for the ceremony.