Easter in Florence: Rocket Doves & Exploding Cars

For my money, no matter how amazing it may be to see an Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square. I’d rather spend Easter Florence. These customs are no less historic, but I find them so charming (and improbable) that they seem almost impossible to ignore.

You may recall that last week, when I talked about Easter celebrations in Italy I mentioned Florence’s rich tradition. But a few lines don’t really do justice to the full story of Easter in Florence, so I’m back talking about Easter. This time there will be video.

Easter in Florence: Scoppio del Carro

Scoppio del Carro || creative commons photo by Monica Kelly

After the Easter services at the Duomo are over, a wooden tower is lit with firecrackers, creating a fountain of sparks and fireworks. It is called the “Scoppio del Carro” or the “Explosion of the Cart”, and its roots can be traced back to the 11th century.

Let me go back a little.

A Florentine soldier received three flints in Jerusalem from the Holy Sepulchre during the First Crusade of 1097. They were returned to Florence by the soldier, who lit torches using these flints during Easter. Later, the torchlights were replaced by a large lit candle with the “holy fire” and carried in a cart around the city. These same flints can still be used today to light coals on the cart.

As I mentioned, there is some history.

Scoppio del Carro, as we know it today, dates back to the late 1800s. On Easter Sunday, a group of white oxen drags a tower-shaped cart measuring 30 feet tall through the streets of Florence. This is followed by a parade featuring hundreds of musicians, flag-throwers, as well as others dressed in medieval garb. The cart has been in use for over 500 years. However, contrary to festival name, they don’t blow up the cart. It is covered in firecrackers and carries the container of coals that were lit by the 11th century flints.

Scoppio del Carro || creative commons photo by Monica Kelly

The cart will be parked in front the main doors of the Duomo when it arrives on the square in front. The cart is secured to the wire by a thin wire that is strung from the cathedral’s high altar. A small rocket in shape of a dove-shaped rocket is also attached to this wire. It’s also known as a “Colombina,” which means “little dove”. At Easter Mass, the colombina is lit at the altar. The rocket then shoots from the Duomo onto the wire and lands on the rocket. This lights the firecrackers and begins the fireworks display.

I’m sure.

It is all just too amazing to describe. Here are some videos from the Scoppio del Carro. This is not a joke, I swear.

Scoppio del Carro in Video

This 2009 montage shows you everything you will see on Easter morning. It includes the historic flints as well as the colombina. You can also spot Matteo Renzi, the current Prime Minister of Italy and Florentine, at the end.

This video shows the fireworks at various stages. It was clearly made by someone who had the ability to see past the crowds. You can hear the bells from the nearby campanile ringing all through the explosions.

This view point overlooking the square allows you to get a good idea of where the cart is located between the famous buildings.

I will spare you from the unpleasant bits of the video and suggest that you fast-forward to the 1:02 mark. Then, keep your eyes on the fireworks inside the cathedral. Next, watch for the colombinas flying out through the open doors.

This one shows the colombina coming out of the doors to light the cart’s fireworks.

For more history, visit the Duomo’s official Easter page – in English .

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