The holidays aren’t over in Italy until the Befanacomes around, January 6 or Epiphany Day, a feast that, in Western Christianity, commemorates the visit of the Magi to baby Jesus. In Florence, the day is marked with a procession and re-enactment of an ancient Florentine tradition known as ‘la cavalcata dei Magi’, the ride of the Magi.
It is quite the show: the solemn procession, made up of about 700 people in period costumes, led by the Magi on horseback wearing sumptuous silk dresses inspired by those seen on Benozzo Gozzoli’s fresco in the chapel inside Palazzo Medici Riccardi, winds its way through the center of Florence, departing from Piazza Pitti and arriving in Piazza Duomo.
This tradition goes back to the 15th century, when a secular association dedicated to the Magi, the Compagnia dei Santi Re Magi, also known as ‘La Stella,’ organized a festive parade around the streets of Florence every three and then five years. The parade consisted of three different processions that met at the Baptistery and proceeded together to the Basilica of San Marco, where, with songs and prayers, they worshipped Child Jesus.
Major members of the Medici family belonged to the association and took part in the parade; after 1494 however, when the Medici were expelled from Florence, the event was suppressed. It was the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Florentine institution that, since 1296, promotes and preserves Piazza del Duomo and its monuments, that revived the tradition in 1997, the 700th year since the construction of the Cathedral.
To complete your experience of the Magi in Florence, you should visit the Magi Chapel in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, where you can admire the famous cycle of frescoes by Renaissance master Benozzo Gozzoli, painted around 1459 for the Medici family; they depict the journey of the Magi and several Medici figures.
January 6, begins at 2 pm at Piazza Pitti, arrives at Piazza Duomo at 3 pm, passing through Via Guicciardini, Ponte Vecchio, Via Por Santa Maria, Via Lambertesca, Loggiato degli Uffizi, Piazza della Signoria, Via Calzaiuoli. At 2:30 pm in Piazza della Signoria, the parade will be joined by the Corteo storico della Repubblica fiorentina (Historic Procession of the Florentine Republic).