Springtime is an especially beautiful time in Tuscany. Fragrant pastel blossom hangs from the trees like pendulous Christmas baubles. Chromatic poppies cover the fields like a scarlet velvet carpet. Emerald dominates the vista as far as the eye can see.
Apart from the obvious natural beauty that makes visiting Tuscany particularly enjoyable at this time of the year, the region’s cultural calendar accelerates into top gear too, particularly might we add in Florence.
An unusual tradition takes place on Easter Sunday in Florence, which dates all the way back to the Crusades. When the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem in 1099 it was a soldier from Florence who raised the Christian banner over the city. His name was Pazzino di Ravieri de Pazzi and he was rewarded with three pieces of stone from the Holy Sepulchre, which could be struck together to make fire. This is how the Easter fires were lit during the Florence Easter celebrations.
The tradition can be traced back to 1102. The fires were spread to hearths in Florence by cart and symbolised new life. Nearly four centuries followed before descendants of Pazzino di Rivieri were stripped of all their privileges and powers because they tried to overthrow the Medici. The Pazzi family no longer took responsibility for the Easter fire and it was turned over to others who came up with a somewhat bizarre ritual, which is what you can see in Florence today.
The cart is placed in the cathedral square with a tight wire attached to it. The other end goes inside the cathedral where a dove-shaped rocket known as a ‘Colombina’ is fixed loosely onto the wire. At 11 in the morning the Colombina is set alight and it travels at high speed – and with much smoke – along the wire, down the knave of the cathedral and outside to the cart.
Here the rocket sets off a multitude of noisy fireworks and a Catherine Wheel atop the cart goes off with a simultaneous combustion of noise, sparks and colour. The Catherine Wheel finally bursts open with a loud bang revealing the petals of a lilly. The emblems of Florence and the old Pazzi family are then displayed to signify peace in the world.
What an incredible Easter show. As well as the carpeting of poppies, the pendulous ubiquitous blossom and emerald as far as the eye can see, the Scoppia del Carrio is yet another reason to visit the Tuscan capital this Easter.