On Easter Sunday, in Piazza del Duomo in Florence, crowds of passionate Florentines and curious tourists throng to witness the Explosion of the Cart (lo Scoppio del Carro), a unique secular-religious folk event whose origins can be traced back to the time of the First Crusade.
According to tradition, the valiant Florentine captain Pazzino de’ Pazzi, the first to climb the walls of Jerusalem, received as a gift three splinters of the Holy Sepulchre, now preserved in the Church of Santi Apostoli. Linked to the three splinters is the ritual of the Holy Fire, lit with sparks from their rubbing and then carried in procession on Holy Saturday. With time, the ritual was expanded by introducing transportation by a cart and then replacing the fire with fireworks.
The Cart, sympathetically named Brindellone, is a tall and colorful structure covered with Florentine coats of arms and symbols, which on Easter morning is brought out of its “custom-made” warehouse, a long narrow building located on Via il Prato. Pulled by picturesque decorated oxen and escorted by the Historic Procession of the Florentine Republic, the Cart arrives at the Cathedral’s parvis, surrounded by a jubilant and noisy multitude.
At the same time, from the Church of Santi Apostoli a procession of priests and dignitaries, opened by the city’s banner and the Pazzi family flag, makes its way to Piazza Duomo.
At 11 a.m., the “colombina” (a rocket in the shape of a dove) departs from the Cathedral’s high altar and, gliding along an iron wire, crosses the entire nave to the Cart, where it triggers the ignition of hundreds of multicolored smokes, accompanied by hisses and bangs, and the sparkling pinwheel placed at the top. The colombina is then “shot” back down the wire to return to its starting point. Its successful flight is traditionally a good omen for a rich and abundant harvest.
The tradition of the Explosion of the Cart ties in with another important popular event in Florence, the Historic Football (Calcio Storico): before the Explosion, the draw of teams takes place, which determines the two semifinals of the tournament.