If you are in Florence for Easter this year, then you must be in the cathedral square at about 10am today, Easter Sunday, for the EXPLOSION OF THE CART (Scoppio del Carro), which will take place at 11am.
This is a tradition that has been going on for centuries. Pazzino de’ Pazzi was one of 2,500 Florentines who ventured to the Holy Land in the late eleventh century, and was the first over the walls of Jerusalem where he planted the crusader flag.
He was rewarded for his bravery in the form of a gift of three flints from the Holy Sepulchre, given to him by the leader of the crusade Goffreid, the Duke of Bullion (located in modern day France).
In 1101 he returned to Florence, and, from then on, three flints were used ceremoniously every year to light the domestic fire in every citizen's household on Easter Sunday, symbolising new life and the hope of future resurrection.
The flints were carried from house to house on a cart which, over time, became more and more decorated. The cart was taken to the cathedral to light the paschal candle, as well as the candles in the other churches. The cart was then piled high with fireworks and set off in the cathedral square to add drama and excitement to the celebration.
During the year, the flints were jealously guarded in the Pazzi family palace until they unsuccessfully conspired to kill the leaders of the Medici family in 1478 and take over the city. The family exiled, the flints were taken for safekeeping to the church of Santa Maria sopra Porta and, when this was suppressed, they were moved, in 1785, to the Santi Apostoli church where they are today.
The Medici, always one step ahead of the rest and extremely avant-garde, introduced a new spectacle to the celebration at the beginning of the 1500’s - the rocket dove!
Inside the cathedral after the mass, the archbishop, using the sacred fire that had been lit by the Holy Sepulchre flints, also lit the rocket dove (with a laurel branch in its mouth) which was attached to an iron cord.
The rocket bird would shoot off, out through the cathedral and straight into the cart, igniting the fireworks! The dove would then do an about turn and shoot back into the cathedral! If successful, there would be a bountiful harvest the following season.
If you get to the front of the cathedral early enough for a good view of the door, you can see the dove shoot out to ignite the fireworks!
You can choose where to start your Easter festivities... either start at the Santi Apostoli church and accompany the flints to the cathedral or start at the Porta al Prato, where the cart is kept and, along with the procession, walk the cart into the main religious square. The cart is pulled by some beautifully adorned white bulls. It is nicknamed the Brindellone (the big awkward clumsy thing!) by the Florentines due to its size and how it wobbles and rambles through the city streets to its destination.
Happy Easter and may you have an explosive weekend!