The ‘Explosion of the cart’

On 16th April (Easter) in Florence in Piazza Duomo the traditional explosion of the cart and the flight of the dove will be re-enacted as it has been happening for centuries

16 April 2017

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In Florence at Easter, which this year falls on April 16th, in Piazza del Duomo - between the beautiful Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and the Baptistery of San Giovanniat around 11 am the traditional ‘Scoppio del Carro', also called ‘il brindellone' will take place, followed by the propitiatory ‘volo della colombina', the flight of the dove. This is nothing more than a concealed small flare that looks like a dove and, by sliding along a steel wire, lights the fuse on a cart before flying back to the altar of the cathedral from which it started. If the flight of the dove succeeds, the harvest be abundant. If instead the dove does not complete the full course, this is considered a bad omen for the season’s harvest.

Like many of the oldest popular events, religion and superstition combine in a traditional rite that is rooted in culture and history. It all began back in 1101 when Pazzino, descendant of the Pazzi family, returned from Palestine where, fighting with the Crusaders, he had made an important contribution to the conquest of Jerusalem. It was said that he had been the first to climb the walls and place the white-red flag of the crusaders there. For this reason three fragments from the Holy Sepulchre were given to him and, when he returned to Florence, great celebrations were staged to honour him. The three stones, originally held in the Pazzi palace, were later transferred to the Church of the Holy Apostles, where they are still preserved. According to historical reconstructions, on Holy Saturday the youth of Florence families gathered in the Cathedral to distribute the fire as a sign of purification and rebirth. After lighting the flame by rubbing the three fragments of the Holy Sepulchre, they rode in procession, each carrying a 'fercellina', a small burning torch used to distribute the fire to the entire population. Everything became more complex when the embers were placed on a 'tripod' carried by a cart. It was towards the end of the 1300s that the cinders were replaced with fireworks and the entire organization of the celebration, with its attached costs, was entrusted to the Pazzi family.

When in 1478 the Pazzis, as a result of ‘the Pazzi  conspiracy’ against the Medici, were expelled from Florence, the explosion of the cart was suppressed and Easter Saturday went back to holding quiet and humble celebrations that only included the distribution of fire. The Florence inhabitants, not at all pleased, tried in every way they could to reintroduce the explosion Easter, but had to wait until 1494 when, following the preaching of Savonarola, the Medici were expelled from Florence. Only then, in fact, did the organization and the onus of the Florence explosion of the cart return to the Pazzi family. Initially the cart was much simpler than the one that is used now and after the explosion had to be virtually rebuilt every year. So it was that a more solid and monumental one was built that although restored several times, has survived to the present day.

Even the name of the wagon, the 'brindellone' Firenze has ancient origins. It refers to the cart carrying a man dressed as St. John who, like the hermit, wore tattered clothes. The cart was mounted for the feast of St. John held on June 24th. He who had to impersonate him, in the aftermath of the celebrations usually had an unstable posture, typical of one who has had a bit too much to drink. This is why the cart was called 'brindellone' and the same name was also given to the cart of the Holy Saturday.

But let’s come to the present day. How does the explosion of the cart in Florence Italy take place? Il brindellone Firenze is pulled by two white Chianina oxen from Piazzale di Porta al Prato to the Church of the Holy Apostles. Here a priest rubs the three pebbles to light the Easter candle which in turn lights some pieces of coal contained in the cart. At this point the procession with participants, flag-wavers, drummers and the city and ecclesiastical authorities (around 150 people) arrives in Piazza del Duomo. Here the cart stops, the oxen are detached and all await the start of the Holy Mass. While the procession takes place a steel wire is stretched at a height of about 7 metres from above the altar of the cathedral up to the wagon. When 'Gloria in excelsis Deo' is sung, the fuse is lit: this is the famous dove named colombina of Firenze which is nothing more than a rocket with the appearance of a dove. This reaches the cart and the fireworks display begins: a riot of explosions, pinwheels, sparks, coloured lights. Nearly the whole square is filled with smoke and the dove makes the return journey that must be absolutely smooth. If something goes wrong it is a bad omen for the success of the crops. It is just superstition, right? Well, in 1966, the year of the big flood caused by the River Arno, the dove jammed and did not manage to go all the way back. It could just be pure chance…

Are you curious to see how this year will go? Take the opportunity to spend Easter in Tuscany and take part in this moving celebration: you will have the chance to relive the charm of the Florence of the past. So take note of the Scoppio del Carro time: the cart sets off from Porta al Prato at around 10 am, whereas the dove comes on stage at around 11 am.

Spending Easter in the Capital of Tuscany is an excellent opportunity to explore a city that is always wonderful, but in the spring becomes particularly pleasant. Book one of our hotels in Florence and choose among the wide range of our tours in Florence those that arouse your curiosity most! You will surely discover unusual and interesting facets of a fantastic city that is always fascinating.

By Insidecom Editorial Staff