Saint John the Baptist, Florence’s patron saint, has been the subject of religious and civil tributes in the city for centuries. The baptistery was built in his honour, showing the world not only Florentine architectural prowess but also the city’s devotion to its saint. Heralds used to proclaim festivities in the saint’s honour from the most important parts of the city and nobles would make donations of church candles. Some of the candles donated to Saint John would then be left to burn all year long in the baptistery. As Florence became more and more powerful, the candles donated got bigger and bigger and increasingly ornate.
Today, on the morning of the 24th June there is a short parade from Palazzo Vecchio and candles are still donated. The most important event of the day for many Florentines today though is the huge firework display from Piazzale Michelangelo. The pyrotechnic display usually lasts for about an hour and hundreds of locals and tourists alike gather along the banks of the Arno to watch it.