Easter time in Italy means spending time with family, eating good food, and picnicking in the countryside. Businesses sometimes take the entire week off, and government-run institutions, such as bus and train service, are pared down. Easter Sunday itself, known as Pasqua, is a day of intense celebration. Parades, brass marching bands, idols made of precious metals carried atop men’s’ shoulders, massive fireworks displays, and religious rituals of numerous variation are all present. Everyone partakes. The day after Easter, known as Pasquetta, is just as important. A bit more subdued, Pasquetta is a time for families to visit the nation’s parks and beaches–good weather permitting–and share in delicious feasts.
While every town and city in Italy has its own Easter celebration, I wanted to discover the most unique and important Easter events. Many rituals date back to the 18th Century or further. Those that are the most curious have made my list.
Florence’s Scoppio del Carro
Perhaps the most important Easter celebration in Italy, Scoppio del Carro, or Explosion of the Cart, draws huge crowds. At 9am, an immaculately adorned cart begins its yearly journey through the streets of Florence, drawn by two snow-white oxen. The cart, which dates from the 17th Century, begins at Porta al Prato. The fascinating element of this ceremony takes place at 11am. Inside the Church of the Santissimi Apostoli, a group of clergymen light a rocket. The rocket is fastened to a wire that runs directly to the cart. When the rocket reaches the cart–amidst the singing of a choir–a small explosion takes place, which is soon followed by a large number of fireworks (fortunately the oxen have been removed by this time). The Easter parade commences when the fireworks end.
Holy Week Rites in Taranto, Puglia
An intensely emotional ceremony, the procession in Taranto begins at midnight on the Friday before Easter. Throughout the night, men and woman dressed in white robes and white hoods with tiny eye-slits, walk barefoot along an ancient route. They hope to be absolved of their sins. This often means that criminals take part in the ceremony. The trek is painstakingly slow, and the procession averages 90 feet an hour. For every two steps forward, the procession takes two steps back. A beautiful image, the procession is accompanied by funeral marches when it returns to the city in the morning. This is the best time to see the procession.
Piana degli Albanesi, Sicily
This secluded village has been able to maintain many of its traditions, and on Easter day the inhabitants dress up in 15th Century garb. The experience becomes even more visually dazzling when the locals begin to give out blessed, red painted eggs. Later, there is a ceremony in which a Holy Veil is put on display. It is believed that the truly devoted will see the face of Jesus Christ in it.
Reenactment of the Procession and Death of Christ in Troia, Puglia
This celebration does not take place on Easter Sunday, but it is too interesting to ignore. Taking place on March 28th, the celebration reenacts the story of Jesus Christ’s procession and death. With the solemnity of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, a man portraying Jesus Christ is marched through town and flagellated. Ultimately, the crucifixion is acted out. The reenactment begins at 3pm.
San Martino delle Scale, Sicily
Another event that promises to be visually stunning takes place in the town of San Martino delle Scale, located in western Sicily. Benedictine monks release a collection of birds that they have nurtured and protected during the winter months. The tradition is over 300 years old.
You will become part of the play if you visit this town on Easter. Locals dress up like angels and demons and battle for the souls of the other inhabitants. The event is called the Dance of the Devils, and the masks are reportedly fantastic, with elaborate features and horns. What type of mischief these devils concoct is up to them, but it includes pranks of all kinds. Fortunately, they are inevitably subdued by the angels, Christ, and the Madonna.
Written by Mattie Bamman for EuropeUpClose.com