Easter Sunday every year falls sometime between the end of March and April 25, depending on lunar cycles and generally falls on a period of general mild climate throughout Italy. It's the beginning of Spring which brings longer and warmer days, the reawakening of nature and the scent of fresh grass and blooming flowers on the air.
The Easter holidays are a perfect time to enjoy the "cities of art" in Tuscany, meaning you cannot skip over Florence! Here, you can alternate between wonderful outdoor walks and visits to museums and exhibitions, enjoying the traditional folkloric event of the Explosion of the Cart.
1. The Explosion of the Cart
The most awaited event of Easter in Florence is undoubtedly the impressive "Explosion of the Cart" (or Esplosione del Carro), which takes place on Easter Sunday starting at about 10am in Piazza del Duomo.
The Explosion of the Cart is a tradition born over 300 years ago. The Cart has its own named, called the "Brindellone", and stands over 9 meters tall on wheels which is then pulled by a pair of white oxen from its warehouse found on via Il Prato. It slowly winds its way from there to Piazza Duomo to sit between the cathedral and Baptistery. Around 11am, as part of the Easter Mass being celebrated in the Cathedral, the Archbishop of Florence at the altar lights the "Colombina", a rocket shaped like a dove and which symbolizes the Holy Spirit, and this running along a cable that has been attached in the meantime to the Brindellone will hit it, setting off the fireworks mounted on top it. Therein is the Explosion of the Cart you've been hearing about! It is a great event to witness, both for visitors as for Florentines, who wait to see the return of the Colombina back to the altar inside the Duomo. According to tradition, if the Colombina returns all the way back to the altar the year will be positive (years ago it meant there would be a good harvest in the fields).
Every single step of the entire morning is steeped with tradition and history: you can read more about the Explosion of the Cart in this article.
Interested in religious services during Holy Week in English? Here are the options in Florence:
St. James Church (Episcopalian). Via B. Rucellai 9, tel. 055/294417
Palm Sunday, April 9: Eucharist, 9am & 11am
Maundy Thursday, April 13: Eucharist, foot washing and stripping of the altar, 6.30pm
Good Friday, April 14: Liturgy and veneration of the cross, 12noon and 6.30pm
Holy Saturday, April 15: Great Vigil and First Mass of Easter, 6.30pm, followed by Agape reception feast
Easter Sunday, April 16: Eucharist at 9am and 11am. After the 11am service, an Easter toast and reception will take place on the church's front portico, followed by an Easter egg hunt.
St. Mark's English Church (Anglican). Via Maggio 16, tel. 055/294764
Maundy Thursday, April 13: Holy Mass followed by the Watch, 7–10pm
Good Friday, April 14: Veneration of the cross and Good Friday liturgy, 11.30am; the Three Hours Devotion, 12noon-3pm
Holy Saturday, April 15: Ante Communion, 10am; Easter Vigil and First Mass of Easter, 8pm
Easter Sunday, April 16: Sung high mass, 10.30am
Santi Apostoli (Catholic). Piazza del Limbo 1, tel. 339/2425734
Palm Sunday, April 9: Mass and procession, 10.15am
Holy Thursday, April 13: Bilingual mass (Italian-English), 7.30pm, followed by a Holy Hour until 9.30pm
Good Friday, April 14: Celebration of the Passion (reading of the passion, adoration of the cross, Communion), 5pm
Easter Sunday, April 16: Mass, 10.30am
2. Enjoy Art & Culture at Florence's Top Museums
If you are planning to spend just a couple of days in Florence, you likely will not want to lose the opportunity to see and enjoy its artistic beauty.
Openings & closings for 2017:
Palazzo Vecchio and Arnolfo Tower - the museum will be open on Sunday 16 and Monday 17 from 9 am to 11 pm; the tower from 9 am to 9 pm (closed in case of rain)
Museo Novecento - open on Easter Sunday and Monday from 11 am to 8 pm
Complesso di Santa Maria Novella - open on April 16 from 1 pm to 5,30 pm and Monday from 9 am to 7 pm
Museo Bardini - closed on April 16, aperto a Pasquetta open on Easter Monday from 11 am to 5 pm
Cappella Brancacci - closed on April 16, open on Easter Monday from 1 pm to 5 pm
Fondazione Salvatore Romano - closed on April 16, open on Easter Monday from 1 pm to 5 pm
Bigallo Museum - closed on April 16, open on April 17 from 9,30 am to 12,30 am
Opera del Duomo Museum and Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral - closed on April 16, open on April 17 from 10 am to 5 pm
Brunelleschi's Dome - closed on April 16, open on April 17 from 8,30 am to 7 pm
Baptistery - closed on April 16, open on April 17 from 8,15 am to 10,15 am and from 11,15 am to 7,30 pm
Cripta - closed on April 16, open on April 17 from 10 am to 5 pm
Boboli Gardens - open on Sunday and Monday from 8,15 am to 6,30 pm
Easter Sunday April 16, 2017 the Uffizi, Accademia Gallery, the Pitti Palace (Palatine Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art, Tesoro dei Granduchi, Museo della Moda e del Costume) and Boboli Gardens are open.
On Monday April 17, 2017, the Uffizi, Accademia Gallery, Tesoro dei Granduchi, Museo della Moda e del Costume and the Boboli Gardens are open.
Bargello Museum open Sundays and Mondays extended opening hours from 13.30 am to 7 pm
Museum of the Medici Chapels open Sunday and extended opening hours on Monday from 8.15 am to 1.30 pm;
During Easter, several interesting exhibitions will be also be open: you can check out the list of the current exhibits here.
3. Relax in Florence's Magnificent Gardens
Those who prefer to enjoy Florence beyond the museums and their exhibitions will likely opt to spend more time outdoors. In this case, we highly recommend enjoying walks under the early Spring sun in Fiesole, Settignano or the surrounding hills of Florence where you can enjoy great views over the city. This also means we highly recommend visiting one of the many beautiful gardens and monumental parks in the city. In addition to the most famous Boboli Gardens and Gardens of Villa Bardini (the Bardini is closed on Easter Monday but the Boboli gardens will have a special opening), you can admire the panoramic view from the Rose Garden located just below Piazzale Michelangelo or enjoy a relaxing picnic in the Garden of Horticulture (just outside the historical center near Piazza della Libertà), hiking up to the nearby gardens of Parnassus for a great panoramic view over the city center.
If you enjoy walking, do not miss these three routes to explore Florence on foot: they take you through the historical center, the Oltrarno and up to Piazzale Michelangelo and San Miniato. All of these routes and parks can be enjoyed throughout the year, not just at Easter time.
On Easter Sunday reopens the beautiful Medici Pratolino Park. It will be open on Sunday 16th and Monday, April 17 from 10 am to 8 pm; then the park is open on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from 10 am to 8 pm until October, 2017. Admission is free.
4. A Ride Out of Town
Italians traditionally spend Easter Monday out with friends and family. While Christmas is a celebration that in Italy is typically spent with extended family members all gathered together, the Easter holidays are not. There is an Italian saying that goes "Christmas with your family, Easter with whomever you want." If you want to organize a day trip out from Florence, you just have to choose the direction: toward the countryside (for example, the wine region of Chianti), toward the sea (to the nearby Versilia or Etruscan coast, for example) or to other villages and cities of art in Tuscany. The alternatives are equally valid if you go by car, but if you have to rely on trains and buses (remember that Easter Monday is considered a public holiday), then we suggest you stick to Siena, Lucca, Pisa and Arezzo, which are about an hour's journey from Florence. For more tips on the most beautiful day trips to do in Tuscany from Florence, read our tips in this article.
5. Satisfying your Palate: Tips to Enjoy Classic Easter Treats
To really know a country or a city, you have to get in touch with its culinary tradition, don't you agree? Beyond the foods and flavors that can be found throughout the year in Florence, such as the famous Florentine T-bone steak, I want to share with you several dishes and sweets you can find in restaurants (in Florence and generally across Italy) in the days right around Easter.
The T-bone steak gives way to the lamb as a specialty to be enjoyed at this time of year, most often roasted and served as the main dish. On the table, you will often find eggs prepared in various ways, but know that in Italy the tradition is to boil them and take them to Easter Mass to be blessed! Everyone then enjoys eating their blessed eggs. If you attend Mass, expect to find children taking their chocolate eggs, received as a gift for the occasion of this feast, to also be blessed. Among desserts, which you will find in most bakeries and pastry shops in Florence, the Colomba stands out: a leavened cake shaped like a dove with candied fruit inside and covered with almonds and icing on top. In Italy, it is as much tradition to eat Colomba at Easter as it is to eat Panettone and Pandoro at Christmas. (Photo credit Yahti.com on Fickr).
During the period of Lent (Quaresima), pastry shops and bakeries all over Tuscany make "pan di ramerino", a sweet bun with raisins and rosemary. Tradition has mass goers take a few pieces to Mass on Holy Thursday, the last Thursday before Easter, to also be blessed. The cookies called "Quaresimali", made with cocoa and in the form of letters are probably the sweets most appreciated by children. These are mostly just found in Florence and its surroundings.
Staying elsewhere in Tuscany during Easter? For more tips on what to do in Tuscany on Easter Sunday, read this article.