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Scoppio del Carro - Explosion of the Cart

Scoppio del Carro in Florence. Courtesy of APT Firenze

12 Apr 2009 (annual)
Hours: Procession 10am; explosion 11am
Telephone: +39 055 29 08 32
Every year on Easter Sunday, perfectly sane Florentine citizens gather in Piazza del Duomo to watch a dove-shaped rocket, called the "Colombina", fly out of the famous Duomo and ignite a huge wooden cart-structure in the square outside.
The history of this event combines religious artefacts with pyrotechnic machinery. While the ultimate purpose of it, as a good "pagan" ritual, is to secure a good harvest, its pagan roots are less clear than in many other similar events all over Italy.

Tradition holds that the explosion of the Carro, called the Brindellone, goes way back to the semi-legendary exploits of Pazzino de'Pazzi, a Florentine warrior who was the first man to climb the walls of Jerusalem in July 1099, during the First Crusade. For this deed he received from his commander two shards of stone from the Holy Sepulchre, shards which were subsequently used to start an annual "holy fire" during Holy Week. This ritual fire used to be transported through the city as a religious relic for all to see.

By the Middle Ages this "holy flame" had come to be transported in a Carro, a simple carriage that transported a large candle through town on the 24 June, day of Saint John the Baptist, patron saint of Florence.

By the 18th century, the simple Carro had metamorphosed into a tremendous tottering structure, 30 feet tall, divided vertically into four niches that held little boys (?!?), with a poor ragged fur-clad man on top, representing Saint John. The otherwise unemployed man was paid 10 lire for the job, which was to distribute candy, bits of food and other goodies.

Today the ceremony still bears a strong resemblance to the way in which it has been celebrated for centuries. On the morning of the day the Carro, pulled by two white oxen, leaves from Via del Prato for the Piazza del Duomo, accompanied by costumed revellers, city officials and clerical representatives. The holy fire, still started with the historical shards of the Holy Sepulchre, is lit in the Church of SS Apostoli and transported to the Duomo, where the archbishop of the city lights the sacred Colombina rocket with it during the Easter Mass. The rocket travels out of the Duomo along a wire, sets fire to the huge array of fireworks attached to the Carro and returns back into the church the way it came.

If this complex ritual goes smoothly, good luck is ensured for the city, not only with harvests but in the everyday life and business of its citizens.
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