Florence on fire?! Nope. It’s just Easter.

It’s almost Easter! Hands down my favorite holiday after Christmas. I mean, some huge bunny hides chocolate for me? Who comes up with this stuff? AMAZING. So, in honor of this holiday I thought I would write a little something about Easter in Italy, which is really quite different.

There is chocolate, yes. It does come in an egg form, of course.
But, there is something so much better in addition. There is a 500 hundred year-old cart…ON FIRE!!!!
Read on.

EXPLODING CART!!!

Easter, according to the bible, is the day on which Christ rose from the dead, otherwise known as his Resurrection. If this is at all foggy to you (it can be so confusing!), let’s review. Christ is captured and sentenced to death. He is crucified on what is called Good Friday. He is then buried and is, for all intents and purposes, dead for three days. On the third day, the Sunday morning after Good Friday, he is resurrected.

The Jewish holiday of Passover falls at the same time as Easter, as they are symbolically linked through the bible. Jesus was eating Passover dinner – also known as the Last Supper- with the apostles, right before he was captured.

Now, what hidden chocolate eggs and huge bunnies have to do with the above-described biblical events is anybody’s guess. Whereas, lighting a huge antique cart on fire using a flaming dove as the spark and enjoying the ensuing fireworks display makes COMPLETE sense in light of the events surrounding a holiday celebrating Jesus’ resurrection. Am I right? You think I’m kidding? Here is what our friends at Wiki say:
“In Florence, Italy, the unique custom of the Scoppio del Carro is observed in which a holy fire lit from stone shards from the Holy Sepulchre are used to light a fire during the singing of the Gloria of the Easter Sunday mass, which is used to ignite a rocket in the form of a dove, representing peace and the holy spirit, which following a wire in turn lights a cart containing pyrotechnics in the small square before the Cathedral.”
(Don’t believe me? Check here.)
Ok ok. Sheesh. We’ll explain!
So, here’s the deal…and, as all good stories do, we begin with some medieval knights.
According to legend, in the year 1097, some knights fighting in the first crusade were able to breach the city walls of Jerusalem (kind of a big deal if you hadn’t heard). According to the story, the person who is normally honored as the first to climb over was the Florentine, Pazzino de’ Pazzi (literally “Little Crazy of the Crazies”). For his valiant efforts, he was awarded with the ultimate souvenir: three pieces of stone from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (this is the church that marks the spot where Jesus was crucified and is also said to house the place where Jesus was buried, also known as a sepulcher).

These pieces, flints of stones, soon became part of the traditional Easter ceremony (for obvious reasons) and were used to light the Easter fire, which was then paraded around the streets by young men bearing torches of that same fire. Later, this symbolic fire was paraded around on a cart. By the late 15th century, this somewhat humble ceremony had become essentially what we see today, a fire-works display that would put any back yard 4th of July party to shame (Scoppio del Carro means “Explosion of the Cart”). So, what was that about the dove rocket? Read on.

Left: The cart in full force Right: The smoke and sparks in front of the Duomo

Today…well, actually tomorrow morning in Italy, a slew of people dressed in Renaissance garb will parade through the streets behind the 30-ft high cart. They will process from Porta al Prato to Piazza del Duomo, where the cart will be stationed directly in front of Florence’s most important church. A metal wire, starting at the high altar of the Duomo will be attached to the cart. To this wire will also be attached a mechanical dove. At a certain point during the mass, the cardinal of Florence will light the dove with the Easter fire (started by the Holy Sepulcher flints), igniting the bird and shooting it down the wire (like a holy zip line!) to the cart, where it will begin a domino effect of hundreds of fireworks exploding on the 500 year-old cart! (See below.)

Note the Renaissance garb, crowds, and proximity of said crowds to soon-to-be flaming cart


See the pictures? People are about 20 feet away from the thing!<
It’s absolutely nuts. And by “nuts,” I mean amazingly awesome.
Man. Why do the Florentines just know how to celebrate things so well!?
And, in case there was any doubt about that flying dove-rocket, yours truly has photographic proof. Below we see see the mechanic dove pulling back from the smoke as the cart begins its blaze of glory. Thank you little dove. Thank you for bringing your ignited rocket of peace.

Note the faint shape of a dove inside the red circle


Anyway. If you’re there or will be there, it is not to be missed. Make sure to get there early as it will be CROWDED. Warning: lots of tight standing and somewhat uncomfortable proximity to strangers. Don’t bother staking out the Duomo stairs – that is where the procession members will stand. Your best bet is by the Baptistery or towards Via Calzaiuoli.
Happy Easter!!
Buona Pasqua!!




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