The most dramatic part of Easter celebrations in Florence, however, is the Scoppio del Carro - The Explosion of the Cart.
This event has been held in front of the Duomo for well over 500 years, and it continues to be an incredible spectacle.
It all started back during the first crusade, in the year 1099, when a Fiorentino by the name of Pazzino de Pazzi was the first to scale the walls of Jerusalem. To reward the young man, Goffredo di Buglione, the Duca della Bassa Lorena, who was leading the crusade, presented him with 3 shards from the Holy Sepulchre. Pazzino returned to Florence with them and the tradition of lighting the Holy Fire on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter) began. Back in those days, the fire would be lit and youth from all of the families of Florence would bring a fecellina (a small torch) to light with the fire and then process through the city, singing hymns and bringing the flame to every home. The fire would be lit by striking the stone fragments of the Holy Sepulchre together, as it continues to be lit today.
Over time, this tradition changed and for awhile the fire was brought to the masses by driving a cart into town with the fire burning on a tripod of coals. Then, at some point, the tradition moved from bearing fire to bearing explosive fireworks. The exact year of this change is not known, but it was sometime in the 14th century. Today, this tradition continues.
The current Carro (cart) was constructed in the 1490's by the Pazzi family. It has been restored over the years, but it is the same cart as was used more than 500 years ago.
On Easter Sunday, the cart (called "Brindellone" by the Florentines) is paraded through the city, pulled by a team of white oxen, decorated with beautiful spring flowers, and accompanied by around 150 historically costumed guards, musicians, flag bearers, and others. The procession starts at the piazza in Porta a Prato and ends directly in front of the Duomo. The oxen are led away and a wire is affixed to the cart, stretching from the choir within the church. At 11:00, the choir sings "Gloria in excelsies Deo" and a "dove" with a fuse is lit by the fire that was started by the pieces of the Holy Sepulchre. It is released and "flies" down the wire toward the cart, where it ignites a fuse, setting off a spectacular display of firecrackers and fireworks. The "dove" then retreats back into the church on the wire.
Tradition dictates that a successful ignition of the cart will ensure good crops for the year and success. Indeed, the last time that it failed to ignite was in 1966...and later that year Florence experienced a devastating flood! Luckily, this year, once again, the dove was successful, so hopefully 2014 will be a great year for all!