Easter is special in Florence, and if you’re visiting during the Easter holidays you can enjoy some special Florentine traditions and treats. The king of the show is the spectacular Explosion of the Cart in Piazza Duomo on Easter morning, a centuries old folkloristic show that offers plenty of excitement and adds colour to this already sparkling city.
The city is in bloom, pasticcerie are stacked with chocolate eggs and dove-shaped cakes, Easter is everywhere…Buona Pasqua!
The Explosion of the Cart – Easter in Florence
Every year, on Easter morning, Florence celebrates with a big (and free) show in front of the Cathedral. It’s a perfect opportunity to join in with the locals and join in with the spirit of Florentine style. The ‘Explosion of the Cart’ (Scoppio del Carro) is an ancient festival of religious origin that involves a very old cart and plenty of fireworks. A big and slightly wobbly cart, hauled by four well-adorned white oxen, arrives in Piazza Duomo accompanied by a parade in historical costumes.
At 11 o’clock, while the Cathedral’s bells are ringing furiously, a small rocket shaped as a dove or ‘colombina’ is lit on the main altar. It then goes flying along the wire stretching to the cart and sets fire to it, in a big explosion of fireworks. If the dove has a smooth journey, the new harvest will be good and plentiful. Expect noise, coloured smoke and plenty of excitement in the crowd.
Enjoy a chocolate egg and some Vin Santo
Chocolate eggs are a must at Easter, so you have every excuse to enjoy one from an artisanal pasticceria in Florence. It’s an Italian tradition to bring eggs to Mass for blessing, and in the past there would have been only simple boiled eggs to eat at Easter lunch. Now the chocolate trend has taken over, for kids and adults alike.
Why not try Vinsanto, literally meaning ‘holy wine’? This Tuscan sweet wine seems the perfect spirit for the season. Pair it with the typical almond biscuits cantuccini, or to be more faithful to the Easter mood, a slice of traditional cake or colomba meaning ‘dove’. Look out for letter-shaped chocolate biscuits in the pasticcerie. Known as the “quaresimali”, they are a favourite Easter treat for children.
See some sacred art in one of Florence’s top museums
Florence is filled with sacred art, and the subjects couldn’t be more appropriate for this time of year. The San Marco Convent is a one-of-a-kind museum where you can enjoy the very moving frescoes by Beato Angelico, the “angelic painter” that retraced the life of Christ. You’ll find the ‘Last Supper’ by Renaissance master Ghirlandaio.
Or you can visit Santa Croce Church that contains a magnificent ‘Tree of Life and Last Supper’ by 14th century Taddeo Gaddi. At the Uffizi you can look out for the ‘Pietà’ by Perugino or the ‘Supper at Emmaus’ by the Mannierist Pontormo. In the Church of Santa Maria Novella there are the famous ‘Trinity’ by Masaccio and the splendid Crucifix by Giotto. There’s plenty of beautiful art to make your Easter in Florence special.
The main museums in Florence will be open on Easter and Easter Monday. Some might close in the afternoon or have reduced opening times, so check the hours on the official sites. You’ll find some that are usually closed on Monday will open specially for Easter Monday.
Tour the churches like a local
In the Catholic tradition the week that precedes Easter has a very special meaning. This week is filled with rituals that recall the last days of Christ’s life before the crucifixion and resurrection.
On Holy Thursday evening (the day of the last supper) it’s been a tradition since ancient times to go and visit seven churches that are usually decorated with flowers. So if you’d like to do as the locals do, you could try to fit a few churches over your Easter in Florence. The Duomo, Santa Maria Novella, Santa Croce, Santa Trinita, Santo Spirito, Santissima Annunziata and San Lorenzo are all well worth some of your time.
On Good Friday there are processions in many Tuscan towns. In Grassina near Florence you’ll see a weirdly atmospheric reenactment of Christ’s passion played out in historical costumes.