Pasqua, or Easter, is one of the best times of year to be in Italy. The weather has (usually) begun to warm and spring seems to be everywhere. It is a time of celebration with family and friends, though not all Easter events around Italy are created equal. There are several festivities that take place up and down the boot that are as unique to their town as they are unique to Easter.
Easter in Florence
Perhaps the most bizarre and exciting Easter celebration takes place each year in Florence: the Scoppio del Carro or Explosion of the Cart. Every Easter morning for the past 500 years, a 30-foot high antique cart is pulled into the Piazza del Duomo by white oxen wearing garlands of the spring’s first flowers and herbs around their necks. The cart is drawn in a procession that includes men in colourful 15th-century costumes twirling flags to the beat of drums as the bells of Giotto’s campanile ring out through the square.
While inside the Duomo, a little rocket in the shape of a dove (or colombina) is lit by holy fire. The bird zips out the door along a wire and lights the cart on fire. The cart, loaded with fireworks and other pyrotechnics, bursts and bangs into flames, and the little dove zips back into the church. The cart crackles, pops and flares for a good 20 minutes. Bells chime, drummers beat their drums but the flag throwers and and the gathered crowd silently watches on as the cart explodes.
Easter in Rome (at the Vatican)
In Rome, Easter is a bit more sober and dominated by the events of the Vatican. The whole week leading up to Easter, Settimana Santa, is full of processions, the most well known being the Via Crucis on Good Friday that ends at the Colosseum. But Easter morning is when everyone piles into the piazza in front of St. Peter’s Basilica to see the Pope give his Easter address. If you want a glimpse of Pope Francis then you must come early to get up front, otherwise he’ll be only a small dot on the porch of the magnificent church. But lucky for everyone there are screens set up around Bernini’s colonnade showing him give his speech in larger than life-size.
Easter in Sicily
But it seems the most diverse and strange Easter celebrations take place on the island of Sicily. Maybe because it’s separated from the mainland that these old traditions have stayed in place for hundreds of years. Whatever the reason, many small towns around Sicily celebrate Easter in their very own way.
Let’s start with the strangest first: the Dance of the Devil that takes place in Prizzi, a smallish town to the south of Palermo, Sicily’s capital. In Prizzi on Easter, some residents put on satanic masks complete with horns and try to influence others to drink, a symbol for the stealing of souls. But of course the devils can’t have full run of the town, so angels are also around, gracing the crowd with peace. The whole scene depicts the battle between good and evil. Similarly, in Adrano, on the south-west flank of Mount Etna, there’s a play staged every Easter in the town’s piazza. Hell and its demons are on one side of the stage and Heaven and its angels on the other. The struggle between the two forces follows among stage effects like smoke and fire.
Another town to head to in Sicily on Easter is Piana Degli Albanesi, a commune of Sicily that was settled by Albanian immigrants in the 1400s. The whole area is a world apart from the rest of the country, as even the street signs are printed in Italian and the local Albanian dialect. The people who live there are called Arbëreschë, and on Easter they dust off their traditional clothes. Mostly the women get dressed in the sumptuous costumes, but there are also some men who take part in the festivities. After the gospel is read in seven languages, there’s a procession through the streets to the town’s main piazza where the people then distribute red eggs.