Pasqua a Firenze: Spending Easter in Florence, Italy

by Ben Fisher

“Buona Pasqua”!  Italian for happy Easter and something you should hear at least once in your lifetime by visiting the city of Florence, Italy over the Easter holiday.  Whether you are religious, spiritual, or just enjoy cultural events culminating in things blowing up, Florence’s celebration for Easter is sure to impress.

Easter in Florence, Italy with the Pope and crowd
Spending Easter in Florence, Italy is an unforgettable experience. Photo By Ben Fisher

Florence, or Firenze to Italians, is a city that is rich in history and culture.  It is the city that gave birth to the Renaissance and was home to the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and the Medici’s.  Not to mention, a capitol in a country that is primarily Catholic.  So you would be right to guess that Easter is a pretty big deal. To get the most out of this day, do your picnic shopping in the days leading up to the holiday (pretty much every shop in the city is closed on Easter) and prepare to get up early that Sunday to be able to get a spot close to the festivities.

The activities of the day are centered around the Duomo (loosely translated as gigantic friggin’ cathedral).  There is a mass in the morning that is open to the public, followed by a parade where a two oxen team pulls a large cart, strapped to the gills with fireworks, through the city.  Between the front of the Duomo and “The Gates of Heaven” doors leading to the baptistery, men dressed in Renaissance style clothing stand in a large circle performing flag throwing routines.  

Now, if you do arrive at the Piazza del Duomo early enough to secure a close spot, the flag throwers will likely have distracted you long enough to not realize that you are now completely surrounded on all sides, and no matter how far you try to see down any given street, all you will see at this point is a sea of heads, anxiously awaiting the explosive finale to the day’s festivities.

The parade around the city ends with the oxen bringing the large cart right out front of the Duomo.  A few workers place one final piece of the cart on its top that would have broken off during the parade. After this last piece is secured, the Bishop of Florence with some priests in tow, walk around the cart with a thurible (metal incense holder on a chain), blessing the cart and the ceremony and signifying that the real fun is about to begin.

Suspended above the cart, running from above the altar at the back of the church, all the way to the doors of the baptistery, is a wire.  On this wire sits a firework propelled, mechanical dove (historically, they used to release real doves out of the church but for today’s purposes, the fake one is far more practical).  The dove is launched from the altar, through the entire length of the church, over the top of the cart and ending at the baptistery.  

As the dove passes above the cart, it ignites the top most piece, starting a chain reaction of light and loud pops that illicit cheering and clapping from the sardine can packed Piazza del Duomo.  You will watch as each level of the cart sends a series of bangs around itself, then laugh as other parts of the cart that you could not even tell had fireworks attached, startle you.  Before you know it, the whole cart and its surrounding area will look as though it is a bright light with spinning contraptions shooting off sparklers, continued pops encircling the cart, and an entire city captivated and smiling.  When the final firework has been launched, there is a stillness and quiet that permeates the city as the mass in the Piazza takes in what they just witnessed.  

The silence is broken by a small “poof” as smoke canisters are opened, releasing into the square billowing towers of green, red, white and purple, the colors of Italy and of Florence.  With this, the crowd begins to disperse; either to their homes or to a park like Piazza Indipendenza.  The rest of the day is reserved for relaxing, spending time with family, and of course, eating some amazing food and drinking delicious wines.