The Explosion of the Cart is an historic event that takes place on Easter morning in Florence. Spectacular and exciting and full of folklore, the show involves a big cart filled with fireworks, a rocket in the shape of a dove and a parade in historical costume.
If you’re in Florence during the Easter break, make sure you head to Cathedral Square on Easter Sunday morning. Locals and tourists crowd the square for one of the most important Florentine events in the calendar. One that is rooted in folklore and full of symbolic meaning. It’s called the ‘scoppio del carro”.
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Explosion of the cart in Piazza Duomo in Florence
It all begins when the big cart, called “brindellone” by the locals (a nickname for someone tall and swaying) arrives in the Cathedral Square. The whole scene is truly impressive. Four white decorated oxen pull the cart along.
A parade in historical costumes follows and from inside the Cathedral you can hear the priests singing. They are preparing to set fire to a small rocket, shaped as a dove – the ‘colombina‘ – that will run along the wire that stretches from the main altar to the cart.
It’s just before 11am, and the Cathedral’s bells ring for more than 10 minutes straight. Once lit, the ‘dove’ bursts and reaches the cart. At this point the whole square erupts into cheers, and the fireworks begin. Red smokes pours from the cart and inundates the square, fuelling the general excitement.
But it’s not all about the cheering. Everybody follows the journey of the ‘colombina‘ with trepidation. It is in fact crucial for the dove to travel smoothly both ways, and to go back to the altar without getting stuck. This is a good omen, and ensures a good crop for the season.
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A bit of history – what is the meaning of this show?
To find the roots of this festival we have to go back to the first Crusade, in the year 1099. When Jerusalem was taken, it was a Florentine Crusader, Pazzino de’ Pazzi, who entered the city first. As a reward he was given three splinters from the Holy Sepulchre. He brought the precious objects back to Florence where they were then used to light up the sacred fire on the Saturday before Easter.
A symbol of Christ’s resurrection, the sacred fire celebrated the victory of life and the new season. From that simple ancient rite, a bigger show was born. One big cart made its appearance first in the 14th century. Since then, every Easter morning, it generates a lot of excitement in Florence. The cart we see today was built in the 15th century and has been through many restorations.