Easter in Florence | An Explosive Experience
Updated: Mar 4
Our third trip to Florence, Italy found us there on Easter. An exploding 30-ft tower of fireworks, men in flamboyant outfits, and a rocket in the form a dove were NOT what we were expecting.
We'd been fortunate to have already been to Florence twice. This meant we'd been able to explore beyond the traditional "must-do" sites with long lines made by every first-time tourist: the Uffizi, the David statue, and iconic Piazza del Duomo, among others. Yet, Florence kept calling out to us, thus we returned for a third time, staying ten days in the same flat. Our week there was relaxed, filled with odds and ends we had yet to see, day trips to the Tuscan countryside, and a chance to experience Florence at Easter. Let's just say Easter morning was unexpectedly explosive! This article may contain affiliate / compensated links where we may earn a small fee, at no cost to you. For full information, please see our disclosure here.
Scoppio del Carro
The Scoppio Del Carro is, literally, the "bursting of the wagon" and is an Easter tradition that purportedly has its roots back in the time of the Crusades (11th century). A Florentine from the well-off Pazzi family took part in the attempt to reclaim Jerusalem. Legend has it that Pazzino was the first one to scale the walls of that city, placing a banner there. In return for his bravery, he was given 3 pieces of flint from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. On returning to Florence, the flints were used every Saturday to light torches, carried through the city as a "holy fire" (and some say, to ensure a good harvest). The flints reside today at the Church of Santi Apostoli, an understated church compared to the massive Duomo but with historical significance and its own treasures of art.
Whatever the truth of its origins, today's practices are quite the spectacle. The form the event takes today emerged somewhere in the mid-1500s.
The Event Timing
Several things happen somewhat concurrently over the course of Easter morning, all intended to converge in the Piazza del Duomo. At about 8 a.m. on Easter Sunday, the
Brindellone -- the 30-foot tall (9.1 meters) tower of pyrotechnics -- is slowly moved from Via Prato 48 to the Piazza Del Duomo where it is eventually placed between the Bapistry and the open doors of Santa Maria Del Fiori (the Duomo). White oxen accompany it on its journey along with 150 or so "soldiers" and musicians dressed in historical costume (sometimes this is referred to as the Procession of the Florentine Republic). Around 10 a.m. or so, a priest at Santi Apostali strikes the remnant of the historical flints, sparking the "Holy Fire." This source of ignition (usually carried by way of coals) makes its way to the Piazza del Duomo in the company of prients, city officials, members of the Pazzi family, and others.
The "big" event starts as 11 a.m. when the "Gloria" is sung in the Cathedral and the Archbishop lights a rocket shaped like a dove which shoots out of the sanctuary and open doors of the Duomo on a wire, lighting the tower with the "Holy Fire."
A Florentine television station took a video of the event the day we were there. Their crew was better able to capture the dove flying out and other closeups. They've edited down the video, as the actual fireworks last about 20 minutes.
We didn't realize there was all this pomp earlier in the morning, thinking we were "early" when we arrived before 10 a.m. Our view toward the end of the event:
But these people in the next photo arrived after us (and yes, little did we know 2 years later there'd be a pandemic. This photo makes me both chuckle and gasp):
This event involved a lot of standing around waiting but it was worth it. I would do this again but arrive a bit earlier, making sure to stand on the opposite side of the Piazza (right side when facing the Duomo with your back to the Bapistry) so as to see the oxen arrive. If you are crowd-phobic, you could stand on a street farther away toward Piazza della Repubblica and watch the oxen, cart, and officials arrive.
Here are our video highlights, which will give you a better sense of how the event looks from the crowd.
Part of the joy of traveling is experiencing the culture of others. The Scoppio del Carro is an excellent immersion in a tradition that has lasted for nine centuries.
Our favorite travel resource for Florence is Rick Steves' book on Florence and Tuscany, recently updated for 2023. His restaurant recommendations are spot on and details on sites that save you time (and often money) are well worth the price of the book.