Paris may be known as the City of Light, but Florence has its own particular illuminating beauty. Any visitor to the city is easily influenced by the way the Tuscan sunlight mingles with the air over the slow-flowing Arno. Pastel palazzos compete with the artistic treasures they house inside, giving fresh meaning to the phrase al fresco. At no time is the light of the city more magical than during the Festa della Rificolona, a paper lantern festival held in Florence’s main piazza each September as part of the commemoration of the Virgin Mary’s birthday.
The Festa della Rificolona is traditionally held on the 7th of September, the day before the Catholic Church’s observation of the Virgin Mary’s birthday on September 8th. In 2015, September 7th falls on a Monday, but the festivities begin on Sunday when the square outside of the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata is filled with local agricultural products, including fresh cheeses and ripe figs and blackberries. The tradition dates back to the 12th century, when peasants offered gifts to the mother of Jesus from their fields and gardens.
What distinguishes this festa from others in Tuscany is the parade of bright lanterns which light the night sky on the evening of September 7th. The parade is led by the local cardinal, recreating the path of the peasants and pilgrims who would leave their villages before the light of dawn centuries ago, to present their gifts to the Virgin Mary and to pray in the basilica. In modern times when streets are lit by electricity, the lanterns are more decorative than functional. However, one cannot underestimate the impression they leave in the memory.
The Virgin Mary is revered by religious people all over the world, and images of her and the Holy Child are omnipresent in Italian churches. Adding joy to the Festa della Rificolona is the music of children’s voices as they hoist the lanterns above their heads to create a moving river of light through the evening streets. Street performers and magicians contribute to the festive atmosphere, and modern citizens from all over the world gather to participate in a medieval tradition in the city known as the heart of the Renaissance.
Florentine hotels fill quickly in advance of the festival, especially since the mild weather of September makes it an ideal time for visiting the city. Many tourists have returned home for work and the start of school, so there is easier to feel like a local when walking the streets. By booking one of the available long term apartment rentals in Florence Italy, you not only guarantee your own home base for the days surrounding the paper lantern festival, but can take advantage of the many other local happenings that begin to fill the calendar with the approach of autumn and the holiday season.