Countless historical events are celebrated in Tuscany every year; participating in one is a sure guarantee to diving headfirst into Tuscan history. During these celebrations, culture, food, wine and tradition fuse together in what seems like a journey through Italian history. Here is a list to discover the top 25 historical events around Tuscany:
Siena's famed palio is held in piazza del Campo in the heart of the historic center. This age-old tradition dates to 1633 and takes place twice a year: July 2 and August 16. The exciting horserace is a battle between the city’s different districts, an age-old rivalry still alive today. At the end of the event, the winning team celebrates their victory with dinners held in the streets of the triumphant contrada (district).
This horserace is one of the oldest horse palios in Italy. This traditional festival takes place in the town of Buti (province of Pisa), where jockeys representing each of the town’s seven districts race in the main road leading to town. The event also vaunts the recent addition of a historic parade with characters in traditional costumes.
Viareggio's carnival is over 140 years old. The event features more than 400 parades and thousands of papier-mâché floats. This seaside fun is a treat for visitors of all ages, as they can enjoy eye-catching floats, masquerade processions and hundreds of lively masked figures dancing around town. The festival takes place in February for four Sundays in a row.
Cicciolo takes center stage at Piombino Carnival, a character representing the King of Wine. At the end of the carnival (on Fat Tuesday), this papier-mâché mask is burned in piazza Bovio in front of thousands of people.
Castiglion Fibocchi, a town close to Arezzo, hosts the "Carnival of the Sons of Bocco," an age-old event where approximately 200 participants dressed in whimsical costumes and papier-mâché masks invite guests to another dimension. The two-day event features street performers, theater shows, food stalls and fireworks. Don’t miss "King Bocco” on Saturday evening, the festival’s opening act, while on Sunday masked figures scatter throughout the village and join a parade.
Traditional Florentine New Year is held on March 25, a day that begins with a historic parade to Palazzo Vecchio and music playing in Florence’s streets. The celebration continues in piazza Santissima Annunziata, where you'll find an outdoor market, lively festivalgoers and an evening concert.
Between the 10th century and 1749, Pisa’s New Year’s Day coincided with the Annunciation on March 25, exactly nine months before Christmas. Thus, like Florence, Pisa celebrates the New Year twice. This unusual celebration also coincides with a solar clock: a physical phenomenon in Pisa’s main cathedral in piazza dei Miracoli. At midday, a ray of sunlight pierces the cathedral through a round window and illuminates a marble egg located near Giovanni Pisano’s famed pulpit.
The donkey palio in Torrita di Siena is held on the feast day of Saint Joseph (March 19). This popular festival honors the patron saint of carpenters, a widespread activity among local residents. Torrita di Siena's eight districts battle for the palio, a beautiful painted drape. You’ll also find flag-wavers, a parade and performances during the event.
In March, Massa Marittima goes back to its golden age for the biannual Balestro del Girifalco. The 14th-century festival tests the skill, speed and strength of 24 men as they battle for the glory of their terzieri (districts). Competitors arm themselves with authentic replicas of 14th-century Italian crossbows used by their ancestors at the event’s first edition. The target is located more than 30 meters away on the other side of piazza del Duomo. On its back is a painting of the festival’s namesake, the girifalco (gyrfalcon), its wings spread wide as if to take flight. The competitor whose arrow lands closest to the center of the target wins.
Literally translated as the “game of the bridge,” this battle consists of pushing a cart along the Ponte di Mezzo, a battle of strength between Pisa’s northern and southern medieval rival districts (once called Tramontana and Mezzogiorno). These districts are physically separated by the Arno River and linked by the Ponte di Mezzo, hence the festival’s location. The event takes place on the last Sunday in June and features a costumed parade before the main event.
The Luminara di San Ranieri is held on June 16 along Pisa’s lungarni (riverbanks). On this occasion, special illuminations are lit to celebrate the eve of the day of San Ranieri, the city's patron saint; over 120,000 wax candles are placed in glass cups and hung from wooden frames (known as biancheria), not to mention a firework display at night. On June 17, you'll also find a regatta race on the Arno between four boats representing Pisa's four historical quarters.
The Saracen Joust of Arezzo is a medieval chivalric game. Reintroduced in 1931, this 14th-century historical reenactment quickly developed a competitive vibe. Head to Arezzo and enjoy this fantastic and enthralling knight’s tournament, which takes place on the second to last Saturday of June and the first Sunday of September.
On June 24 Florence celebrates its patron saint, St. John the Baptist. In the late afternoon you'll find a historical football match known as Calcio Storico, which is played in piazza Santa Croce and preceded by a parade through the historical center. Four teams representing Florence’s four neighborhoods (Santa Croce, Santo Spirito, Santa Maria Novella and San Giovanni) participate in the famed event.
Every July, Monteriggioni hosts a festival that transports visitors back in time. Characters dressed in historical costumes adorn the city, recreating the feel of medieval times. Plus, you'll have a chance to watch a tournament between 13th-century knights, a battle with piker men, halberdiers, infantrymen and harquebusiers.
This July festival is the reenactment of one of Abbadia San Salvatore’s age-old traditions. The event’s name stems from when the lay community of Castel di Badia gave "censi in natura" (offerings consisting of local products) to the Abbot, a gesture meant to both give thanks and recognize his authority.
The Joust of the Bear, or Giostra dell’Orso, is held in Pistoia's central piazza Duomo on July 25 every year. This event approaches its ancient, traditional palio race with a modern twist. Don't miss this reenactment of a fascinating medieval jousting tournament.
Effetto Venezia is Livorno’s traditional summer festival. The ten-day event is held in July in the famous Venezia neighborhood, a spot whose waterways resemble those of the famed northern city. The festival vaunts a series of shows in squares and streets around the city and features stands with plenty of products to peruse.
The Palio Marinaro is a famed seafaring race held on August 15 at Porto Santo Stefano in Monte Argentario. Many legends surround the Argentario; local tales trace the palio to the battle between Porto Santo Stefano’s struggling fishermen and the pirates infesting the Tyrrhenian Sea. The Palio Marinaro consists of a rowing regatta (4 rowers and one coxswain) pitting four boats, "guzzi" (classic fishing boats), representing the four districts of the town: Maestrale, Grecale, Libeccio and Scirocco, named after the four nautical winds.
On the last Sunday in August in Montepulciano you’ll find the Bravìo delle Botti, a traditional competition where the town's eight districts compete rolling 80 kg barrels up an 1800-meter hill. Two men called “pushers” wind through the historic center until reaching the finish line on the cathedral steps in piazza Grande.
On the 3rd and 4th Sundays of August, Volterra sets the clock backwards to medieval times: knights and horses, noble ladies and gentlemen, minstrels and peasants, archers and flag flyers adorn the city, giving visitors a taste of 14th-century life. City inhabitants dress in medieval costumes and offer guided tours of the centuries-old town.
On September 7, the city of Florence hosts the Festa della Rificolona, an age-old, folkloric Florentine feast still alive in local tradition. The feast dates to the mid-seventeenth century and is connected to masses of peasants and mountain-dwellers that would come to Florence to celebrate the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Church of the Santissima Annunziata. These outsiders journeyed from a number of areas, from the surrounding countryside to the isolated Casentino area and the Pistoiese mountains.
Santa Croce (Holy Cross) is a feast celebrating all of Lucca and its people, a moment where the city proudly expresses its historic identity. The Feast of the Holy Cross is a celebration driven by the city’s profound faith, a moment where citizens and institutions come together under the sign of the Volto Santo (Holy Face), the city's sacred icon since the Middle Ages and a religious reference point across Europe. In September, everything in Lucca revolves around the celebration of the Holy Cross, though the city also retraces other traditions, including religious and civil markets, festivals and processions.
This September event takes place at the Medici Villa of Poggio a Caiano in the province of Prato. The Medici Villa here was built by Lorenzo the Magnificent and soon became his son’s favorite villa. Duchess Joanna of Austria stayed at the villa in 1565 while preparing for her wedding to Prince Francesco de’ Medici. His father, Cosimo I, had recently given him control of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, making their marriage a political and diplomatic act, as the Duchess was neither intelligent nor very beautiful. The arrival of the illustrious guest was organized carefully given the international spotlight the marriage would give Florence. This festival, the “Siege,” reenacts the journey Joanna’s carriage made from Innsbruck to Poggio a Caiano, complete with costumes, flag throwers, dancers, music and more.
The Palio della Balestra is held on the second Sunday of September in Sansepolcro (province of Arezzo). For the occasion, a large number of citizens dress in medieval costumes and prepare for a historical competition between Sansepolcro and their age-old enemy of Gubbio. The event, which takes place in piazza Torre di Berta, consists of a crossbow tournament where participants must hit use centuries-old weapons to hit a bull’s-eye located 36 meters away.
On the first Sunday of September, Montevarchi (province of Arezzo) relives the traditional Festa del Perdono (Feast of Forgiveness) featuring the “Gioco del Pozzo” in piazza Varchi. The game was originally used to determine which of the four historic city districts would be the first to draw water during dry months. The game itself consists of a battle between the city’s teams as they aim for a target in the center of a well.