Thursday, April 2, 2009

Happy New Year Pisan Style

                                The Annunciation, Leonard da Vinci, 1472-1475, 
Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Wondering what the next year will bring?  Then come to Pisa where it's already 2010!  

Capodanno, the first day of the year was March 25, the feast of the Annunciation. According to Christian belief, the Annunciation, exactly nine months before Christmas, is the day on which the Angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary and announced to her that she would be the mother of God. Pisa began using this date as the start of the new year in 985 and continued to do so until 1749. That's when the Grand Duke of Tuscany ordered the fiercely independent population of Pisa to change to the Gregorian calendar -- almost 200 years after it was codified by Pope Gregory XIII.

The tradition remains and more than nine months ahead of the rest of the world, Pisans have popped the corks on their champaigne (or spumante) bottles and toasted in the new year. New Year's Day itself was marked by religious and traditional ceremonies that date back to the Middle Ages.


At 11:30 a.m., we joined  flag-waving heralds, churchmen, city officials and ordinary citizens in a procession through the Pisan streets, across the Campo dei Miracoli and into the cathedral. The new year officially begins at noon when a ray of sunlight comes through a window at the very top of the cathedral and illuminates a marble egg. The window, tradition says, was put in place when the cathedral was built in the 12th century.

Guidebooks tell you the egg is located next to Giovanni Pisano's famous medieval pulpit. In fact, it's in a rather obscure place behind a pillar high up on the church wall. The location makes me question the accuracy of the unknown architects of this solar clock or that of the legend. Since the cathedral is an architectural marvel, I'm inclined to doubt the legend. I'm also a bit unclear about what happens if the sun doesn't shine. Fortunately, it was a bright, cloudless day.

All heads turned upward and on the stroke of noon, the sun illuminated the egg. The cathedral filled with applause and 2010 officially began. Good cheer was everywhere and there was no room for skeptics.

As Pisan Mayor Marco Filippeschi said after the ceremonies: "It's a way of remembering our history as well as a manifestation of hope that in the nine months that separate our New Year from that of the rest of the world, we will all see an upturn in fortune that will strengthen our belief in the future."

Buon Anno! Happy New Year!

To see photos of New Year's Day 2010 in Pisa, click here.


Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor
To see previous photo albums, click here

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