When you hear the words “Easter” and “Italy” in the same sentence, you might think you have a good idea of what the celebrations might be like. You might think of using words like conservative, traditional, even staid. A quick perusal of some of the ways the cities and towns around Italy mark the holiday on the main Easter in Italy page of WhyGo Italy will start to give you an idea of how varied (and even strange) the festivities can be.
But as far as I can tell, no city celebrates Easter with more of a bang than Florence.
Easter in Florence
In Florence, the Easter Sunday tradition is known as the “Scoppio del Carro,” or the “Explosion of the Cart.” The tradition dates back more than 500 years, and involves a huge and ornately-decorated wooden cart that’s covered in fireworks and rockets being wheeled into the square in front of the Duomo on Easter morning (pulled by white oxen, incidentally). After the Easter mass is finished, the fireworks are lit by a rocket that’s shaped like – wait for it – a dove with an olive branch in its beak.
This dove-rocket, called a “Colombina” (little dove), is lit with the holy fire from that morning’s mass while still inside the Duomo. It then zips out the front door of the church on a cable that’s connected to the cart, setting off a chain reaction of fireworks. The dove, still spitting sparks, then zips back into the Duomo while the cart continues the pyrotechnic show. The fact that there’s a fantastic display of drums and medieval-style flag throwers before the cart is set alight would be fabulous on its own, but of course it’s kind of forgotten once the fireworks start going off.
As you can imagine, the crowds around the square are large on Easter morning, and the spectacle is pretty incredible.
But don’t take my word for it. Here are a few videos of Florence on Easter morning.
This is a short video, but it gives you a quick overview of some of the things you’ll see on Easter Sunday in Florence.
This video shows the pomp and circumstance in Duomo square before the cart is lit, with all the flag throwing you could want.
This video is mostly irritating, but fast-forward to about the 1:10 mark to see the Colombina from inside the Duomo being lit, shooting out the front door (sparks flying) and then back again. Most of the other videos out there are from outside the church, so this is a great vantage point.
This is from outside the Duomo, but you can plainly see the Colombina flying out the front door and back again once the cart is lit.
Here’s a great explanation of the history of the Scoppio del Carro, too, if you want more.