If anyone knows how to celebrate Easter in style, it is the Italians. The Florentines especially have mastered marking the occasion with spectacular impact. Every year on Easter Sunday the city turns out for a very special celebration, the Scoppio del Carro, or the “Explosion of the Cart,” which dates back over 350 years. This dazzling spectacle involves a 30-foot antique cart filled with fireworks, a pair of white oxen, a mechanical dove and a procession of musicians and Florentines dressed in medieval costumes.
If you are staying in one of our Easter villas near Florence, the Scoppio del Carro is an unusual and unmissable event that is sure to go off with a bang.
A long-established Easter tradition
The Scoppio del Carro is an ancient tradition rooted in the 11th-century. It is said that a young Florentine noble called Pazzino di Ranieri de’ Pazzi travelled to the Holy Land with the First Crusade, where he scaled the walls of Jerusalem, raised the Crusader’s banner and declared it a Christian country. When he returned to Florence, he brought with him three flints from the Holy Sepulchre, which he had been awarded for his bravery. The three flints were used to light the “new fire'' symbolic of life after the resurrection of Christ at Easter.
This “new” or “holy fire” was traditionally blessed and distributed to the residents of Florence, which was reminiscent of the original ceremony begun in Jerusalem. However, this evolved, until the holy fire was transported about the city by cart. By the late 15th-century, the cart began to be filled with explosive powder and by the early 16th-century, the figure of the dove was introduced, which was used to ignite the cart in a series of explosions.
The reliquary of the three flints is still preserved to this day in the Church of Santi Apostoli, just a short walk from the Ponte Vecchio.
A flair for the dramatic
Today’s celebration of the Scoppio del Carro is much the same as it has been for centuries. Starting around 10am, a chest of coals symbolising the holy fire is ignited by a priest and placed on the elaborate antique cart. The cart is then led by white oxen adorned with flowers and garlands through the streets of Florence until it reaches the Duomo. The cart is followed by a vibrant procession of drummers, flag throwers, clergy and city representatives all dressed in historical costumes.
At around 11am at the end of Easter Mass, the Archbishop of Venice lights a mechanical dove-shaped rocket from the main altar, which flies along a wire, collides with the cart and sets off a brilliant firework display. A spectacle you absolutely cannot miss if you are in Tuscany at Easter.
Our top tips on what to do in Florence during Easter
Easter is a blissful time to visit Florence; the weather is getting warmer, the sun shines most days, but the city is quieter outside of peak season. It is the perfect time to visit the city’s main landmarks and museums like the Uffizi when you will have them largely to yourself and can take your time as you explore.
There will also be plenty of traditional Easter celebrations and Mass to attend, which makes this a really special time to explore Florence’s many fascinating churches. Take your time to savour the local cuisine, from wild boar to artisanal gelato.
Spring is a fantastic time for outdoor lovers in Tuscany too; once you’ve had enough of the Easter celebrations, wander the city’s many Renaissance gardens or head to the hills around Fiesole for a hike or even a spot of Truffle hunting.