PISA, March 30 — Wild applause broke out by the Leaning Tower of Pisa as cheering inhabitants in garish mediaeval costumes celebrated New Year’s, welcoming in 2013 nine months before most of the rest of the world.
The once mighty Tuscan maritime republic has revived a tradition dating back centuries, when Pisa had its own calendar which began nine months before Christmas to mark Jesus Christ’s miraculous conception instead of his birth.
“It’s fantastic, we get two chances at a fresh start every year, two opportunities to make — and break — New Year’s resolutions,” said Maria Rossi, 23, as a horde of children dressed in colourful tunics raced past.
According to tradition, New Year officially begins at midday on March 25 when a ray of sun streaming through a window in Pisa’s cathedral hits a marble marker shaped like an egg — a symbol of fertility, springtime and renewal.
There is a mass to mark the Annunciation — the moment in Catholic tradition when the Archangel Gabriel tells the Virgin Mary that she will conceive — though the priest has difficulty in getting an excited crowd to keep quiet.
Many are recovering from riotous New Year’s Eve celebrations the night before, when thousands of students and families gathered along the River Arno in the historic centre for a lights and music show, topped off with fireworks.
“In the 10th century, Pisa had a fleet which dominated the Mediterranean,” said Fabrizio Franceschini, a professor at the University of Pisa.
“Having its own calendar was another sign of its power,” he said.
The Pisan calendar, which was first mentioned in documents from 985, was also briefly used in Padua and Milan where Pisan influence was strong.
In Tuscany, it was used alongside the ancient Julian calendar, as well as a Florentine one which confusingly celebrates New Year’s Day on March 25 as well but is one year behind, meaning that the city would have just rung in 2012.
“In 1749, the Grand Duke of Tuscany Francis I decided to unite the region under one calendar, and chose the Gregorian one. But Pisans are now going back to their cultural roots and reviving the past,” Franceschini said.
“We began celebrating New Year again in the late 1980s, but it’s recently become a much bigger event and this year is spread over two days,” he said.
The intense rivalry between Pisa and Florence — the city’s more powerful sister for much of history — goes back centuries, and the New Year festivities are tinged with the Tuscan city’s bid to regain some of its former glory.
“Pisa was getting really important. Florence may have been the centre of power but we became the centre of intellectual excellence — and still are!” said Luciano Galeotti, 77, as a procession marched through the city.
Chiara Ardito, a law student taking part in the New Year’s parade for the first time, said she relished dressing up as one of the damsels of Kinzica — the princess who, legend has it, saved Pisa from Saracen invaders in 1004.
“We may be a small city, but just as Kinzica defended Pisa and gave it a second chance, so we have the opportunity to make modern Pisa great,” she said.
While women in embroidered robes and men in velvet breeches, musketeer boots and feathered hats parade through the streets to drums, youngsters waving the city’s red and white flag celebrate with an ice-cream in the spring sunshine.
“New Year’s for us is all about re-birth and the arrival of spring. There are those who talk about the end of the world. I don’t believe in that, I believe in second chances,” said Mario Nuzzi, 56, a doctor.
Some Pisans point out that the city has had extra luck this year — because it has managed to dodge the popular superstition that an ancient Maya prophecy predicts the world will end on December 21, 2012.
“For everyone else the world may be ending, but whatever happens, we always manage to stay on our feet,” said estate agent Dario, pointing to Pisa’s tower which has stayed upright since the 12th century despite its famous lean.
“It’s 2013. We’ve managed to get one over on the Mayas!” — AFP-Relaxnews