Between 10 and 11 o’clock on Easter Sunday morning, a tradition that has played out annually over the last 500 years will be celebrated in front of the Duomo in Florence. The Scoppio del Carro, or Explosion of the Cart, is a mixed pagan/religious ceremony. Marking both Easter and Spring, the successful ignition of the cart guarantees good crops, a successful harvest, stable civic life and bountiful trade, as well as signifying the passage of new holy fire to light those extinguished on Good Friday.
A thirty-foot carved and painted wooden cart (the present version is over 150 years old) is pulled by flower-bedecked white oxen from Porta al Prato to Piazza del Duomo. A mechanical dove ‘flies’ down a line through the open doors of the cathedral, picks up ‘fire’ at the altar, returns to the cart and ignites the explosion of one of the best day-time fireworks display in the world.
It was during the pontificate of Leo X (Giovanni de’Medici, 1513-1521), the ‘colombina‘ – the mechanical bird, shaped like a dove with an olive branch in its beak – was used for the first time. At the Gloria of the Easter Mass, the deacon uses holy fire kindled from the stone chips – obtained during the crusades of 1099 from the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem – to light a fuse attached to the dove.
Before the carro explodes a parade of armored guards, costumed musicians, and elegant nobility attired in 15th century dress enter the cathedral for the Easter Mass. Teams of flag throwers entertain the crowd of over 10,000 people who gather for the Scoppio del Carro. When the cart is ignited, the fireworks last for about 15 minutes, during which the bells in Giotto’s Campanile ring forth.
Due to the incredible crowds, the best place to get a view of the oxen and the cart is along the route on Borgo Ognissanti and Via Vigna Nuova, both before and after the Scoppio del Carro.
An eight-minute film of the fireworks provides one of the best vantage points – one very hard to get at the actual event.