One of Florence’s most important events: the Explosion of the Cart

In Italy Easter is a much celebrated holiday. Italians celebrate this important period of the year for the Church not only because it is a major Catholic holiday. It is also a chance to take a break and get together with family (those who a far away often go home for the holiday).

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In many towns and small villages, historic and folklore reenactments are done of the Passion of Christ. Plus, this is the time of year when winter is over and spring is here: time to celebrate.
One of Florence’s most important events has unique origins. The Explosion of the Cart takes place every year, the morning of Easter Sunday in Piazza Duomo.

The historical origins of the Explosion of the Cart

It all goes back to the time of the Crusades, during wars for the “liberation” of the Holy Land from the Turkish rule. In 1097 a Florentine was the first to climb the walls of Jerusalem, and he brought home three fragments of the Holy Sepulcher. When these stones were struck they lit a true holy fire. They were jealously guarded for centuries, except to bring them out in procession during Easter, which was done in varying ways. The custom was eventually established of carrying them with a large cart. The cart went on to become enormous, with more than three levels, and very elaborate. The Florentines nicknamed it “The Brindellone“, which in the vernacular means a tall, gangly man who walks a bit crooked.

The Explosion of the Cart today

Today’s ceremony certainly makes an impression. On Easter morning a parade of costumed historical figures goes through the streets of the city, while the large cart is pulled by two great white oxen, making its way slowly from Porta al Prato (where it is the rest of the year) to the Piazza del Duomo.

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Once it is in its position in front of the Cathedral of Florence, it waits there. Inside the church, a mechanical dove, “La Colombina” is lit by the Archbishop during Mass. The dove is connected by a long cable that goes through the entire church to the cart waiting outside. After crossing the nave get to the cart and light it on fire, it sparks more than 20 minutes of fireworks, firecrackers and other pyrotechnics to the delight of Florentines and tourists.
There was once the belief that if the dove didn’t ignite the cart, it was a bad omen for the farmer’s harvest.

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If you want to attend this event, like no other in the world, the time of the Explosion of the Cart is set for around 11 in the morning, but you should go watch the parade first to save your place (there is a big crowd!).

After and before Easter Day, two suggestions outside of Florence

On Easter Monday hop over to Greve in Chianti for the antiques market in its main square.
On Good Friday head to Grassina, south of Florence, to watch the reenactment of the Passion of Christ with people in costume recreating the Stations of the Cross.
We would like to thank Giuseppe Sabella for the use of his photos. His photographs are also featured in the book, “Lo Scoppio del Carro” (EDK Editore), on display at Caffé Serafini starting March 26, 2013.


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