In Florence, spring is equal to ancient traditions
by Francesca Soldani
Florence welcomes the onset of spring with various events, cultural festivals, fairs and all kinds of markets.
In the city of the fleur de lys, Easter is a particularly special day, a flurry of activities for citizens and tourists celebrating the historic event of the Scoppio del Carro. The focus of Florentine life which revolves around the memory of this very ancient tradition is the Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore: at 10am of 21st April 2019 a procession of musicians and flag-throwers in vintage costumes accompany the arrival of the cart (also known with the name of “Brindellone”) pulled by white oxen festooned with garlands. After the colourful and joyous parade through large part of the historic centre, the Brindellone, the three-storey firework tower, will wait between the Battistero and the Cathedral, for the start of the Easter mass. 11 o’clock: while the ceremony takes place in church, the archbishop will use the sacred fire to light the colombina, a small mechanical dove, that will give way to the fireworks display by speeding through the church on a 150-metre long wire. If the colombina manages to leave from the high altar of the Duomo, ignite the carro setting off the fireworks and return back to its starting point then the Tuscan capital will have a lucky year. If it’s the contrary then it will be unlucky, as was the case in 1966, the year of the great flood. Where does this tradition of the flaming carro come from exactly? In the Middle Ages, the carro was the essential vehicle to distribute the blessed fire in people’s houses as a sign of purification. It is called the “sacred fire” because it is lit with the sparks set off by rubbing the three flints from the Sacred Sepulcher. These were given to Pazzino de’ Pazzi by the general commander Goffredo IV di Buglione. Pazzino was the first who, during the crusades, was able to enter Jerusalem scaling its walls.
But in Florence, Easter is not just the Scoppio del Carro: the most authentic traditions are found in the recipes of the cakes and biscuits. It is impossible not to mention the quaresimali, letter-shaped cocoa biscuits, very easy to make with flour, sugar, cocoa powder, egg whites, butter and some orange peel. Queen of Florentine cakes is the schiacciata fiorentina, a real and true delicacy. It is the bone of contention among the city’s pastry chefs as they vie one another on who does the best one in all Florence and whereabouts. In spite of being 3 cm high, this cake is spongy and very soft. Decorating its surface is the inevitable fleur de lys with cocoa powder or sugar. Serve cold with custard.