If you haven’t decided what to do during the Easter holiday, the Italian city of Florence could be the perfect destination. Though the city center is crowded, there is a special atmosphere in the air; people are happier and simply want to go out and celebrate. Maybe it’s because Spring is finally here. Or maybe it’s because of Easter itself and the Explosion of the Cart.
The Explotion of the Cart
The Explosion of the Cart is a traditional event in Florence. Every year, hundreds of people, Florentines and tourists alike, take part in this social event, following a procession of soldiers, musicians, flag throwers, nobles and “the cart”, called brindellone. The departure of the procession takes place at Porta al Prato. After going through the downtown streets of Florence, it arrives at Piazza Duomo in front of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore. Then at 11 a.m., during the Easter Mass, specifically the chant “Gloria al Signore” (Gloria in excelsis Deo), a rocket in the shape of a dove flies out of the cart in the direction of the altar and then returns to the cart, at which point fireworks erupt. The fireworks last about 20 minutes while Giotto’s bell tower rings. Legend has it that if this dove-shaped rocket leaves and returns without being hampered, a prosperous year is in the cards.
The event of the Scoppio del Carro originates from the First Crusade, when Europeans laid siege to the city of Jerusalem in a conflict to claim Palestine for Christianity. In 1097, Pazzino de Pazzi, a Florentine from a prominent family, was by tradition the first man to scale the walls of Jerusalem. As a reward for this act of bravery, his commander gave him three flints from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which were then carried back to Tuscany. These are kept in the Chiesa degli Santi Apostoli. It became custom for a “holy fire” to be struck from these flints at Eastertide, which was then carried throughout the city by groups of young men bearing torches. In time, this tradition evolved to something similar to what is seen today: a cart bearing a large candle was rolled through the city to the cathedral, from where the holy fire would be distributed. By the end of the 15th century, the Scoppio del Carro assumed its present form.
Good Friday Passion Play and Procession in Grassina
The town of Grassina, locatd 15 minutes south of Florence by car, hosts the annual re-enactment of the Passion of Christ on the evening of Good Friday. Over 500 people participate in this historical and haunting Easter event, which every year winds its way through the town’s evocative streets and olive groves.
The Good Friday Passion Play was first performed in 1633 when Florence and the surrounding countryside were was struck by a terrible epidemic, which providentially missed the surrounding countryside, causing the inhabitants to organise a solemn procession to express their gratitude for the grace received.
This religious re-enactment has been held every year ever since and is not only fascinating for its intrinsic value but also for the spectacular and scenographic effects to be found in some of the more dramatic episodes, acted with great realism and feeling, of scenes from the life of Christ. These wonderful tableaux vivants are enacted on the hill of Calvary (200 meters from the town), while the long historic pageant, with as many as 500 participants in period costume, move through the town below. The combination of such a host of performers, the care for detail, the background music, and the faithful reconstruction of each event render this Passion Play a unique performance. The dialogues and the text are freely taken from the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John. There is also music by Dvorak, Orff, Haendel, Grieg, Bach, Wagner, Greens, Stravinskij, Beethoven, Faure, Malher, and Albinoni.
The pageant of town’s people in historic costumes moves slowly through the city streets toward the hill of Calvary, located just outside town. People dressed Roman world figures are followed by people in Jewish and Gentile attire, as described in the Gospels. Meanwhile, in a grassy area on the hill, enactments of the Passion and Death of Christ take place under floodlights. The reenactment covers the entire life of Jesus Christ in the following order: Prologue, Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, Baptism of Jesus, Sermon on the Mount, Dance of Salome and the Martyrdom of John the Baptist, Raising of Lazarus from the Dead, Betrayal of Judah, Last Supper, Passion and Arrest of Jesus, the Sanhedrin, Court of Pontius Pilate, Damnation of Judah, Crucifixion, and Deposition.
Easter Culinary Traditions
To discover a country or a city, one must come into contact with its culinary tradition. Here is an idea of what you can find in restaurants in the city of Florence (and generally, in Italy) in the days encompassing the celebration of Easter.
At this time, the famous Florentine steak gives way to roasted lamb, which is served as a main course. On the table, one cannot overlook the eggs, which traditionally are blessed during the Mass of Easter and eaten by all family members (more often, in churches, even chocolate eggs are blessed, which are certainly more popular with children, who they receive them as a gift on the occasion of the feast). Among the desserts, which can also be found in most bakeries in Florence, is the Colomba, a leavened cake with candied fruit, covered with almonds and icing. In Italy, this dessert is known at Easter as the Panettone and at Christmas as Pandoro.
During Lent, you will find in bakeries all over Tuscany pastry shops and bakeries “pan di ramerino,” a kind of sweet bun with rosemary and raisins (by tradition, it is brought to bless the Holy Thursday Mass). More typical of the Florentine area are biscuits called “quaresimali,” made with cocoa and in the shape of letters, appreciated especially by children.