The Scoppio del Carro (“Explosion of the Cart”) is a folk tradition of Florence, Italy. On Easter Sunday, a cart, packed full of fireworks and other pyrotechnics, is lit and provides a historic spectacle in the civic life of the city.
A Little History on the Festival
The event of the Scoppio del Carro has its origins in the First Crusade, when Europeans laid siege to the city of Jerusalem in a conflict to claim Palestine for Christianity. In 1097, Pazzino de’ Pazzi, a Florentine from a very prominent family, was by tradition, the first man to scale the fortified walls that surrounded Jerusalem. As a reward for this act of bravery, his commander gave him three flints (fire starters) from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which were then carried back to Tuscany. These were and still are kept in the Chiesa delgli Santi Apostoli.
It became the practice for a “holy fire” to be struck from these flints at Easter tide, which was then carried throughout the city by groups of young men bearing torches. In time, this tradition evolved into something similar to what is seen today…..a cart bearing a large candle was rolled through the city to the cathedral, from where the holy fire would be distributed.
By the end of the 15th century,the Scoppio del Carro transformed into its present form.
The ultimate origins of the event may be of pagan origin, since it involves a display of great noise and light to ensure a good harvest. Additionally, farmers from the Florentine countryside still observe the Scoppio del Carro with interest because of this.
The Main Event
On the morning of Easter Sunday, the 30 foot tall antique cart ( in use for over 500 years), moves from the Porta al Prato to the Piazza del Duomo. Hauled by a team of white oxen, festooned with garlands of the first flowers and herbs of spring, the cart is escorted by 150 soldiers, musicians, and people dressed up in their 15th century costumes.
Meanwhile, a fire is struck using the historic flints form Jerusalem at ApoChiesa degli Santi Apostoli. It is then carried by the procession to the cathedral square by members of the Pazzi family, clerics, and city officials.
The cart is loaded with fireworks while a wire, stretching to the high altar inside the churches cathedral, is fitted with a mechanical dove (the “columbina”). Shortly thereafter, at the singing of the song, “Gloria in Excelsis Deo”, during Easter Mass, the cardinal of Florence light a fuse in the columbina with the Easter fire. It then speeds through the church to ignite the cart of fireworks outside.
During all of these stages, the bells of Giotto’s campanile ring out.
The complex fireworks show that follows, last approximately 20 to 30 minutes. A successful display from the “Explosion of the Cart” is supposed to guarantee a good harvest, stable civic life, and good business.