- In 2020, Easter Sunday is on April 12 -
Easter is a religious holiday and in Tuscany it means traditional events
Visiting Tuscany during the Easter holidays? Here is everything you need to know to make the most of local events and traditional plays and parades. We have divided the activities by day, so you can easily track events and activities that are planned in Florence and all of Tuscany during Easter.
Just a little Background on Easter in Italy
Easter in Italy is not a short celebration but rather, celebrated over five days starting the Thursday before Easter Sunday and finishing the following Monday. It starts with a wide range of religious and folkloric events then ends with colorfully wrapped chocolate eggs with hidden surprises and picnics in the countryside. There is a wide range of things to do in Florence on Easter Sunday and Monday as well as in the surrounding areas.
Easter in Tuscany for many signals the beginning of spring, with its colorful blossoms and mild temperatures. The event, which varies every year according to the Christian calendar (falling anywhere between the 22nd of March and the 25th of April), is also synonymous with parades recreating events from the Crusades, revocations of religious events, elaborate floral decorations in churches like that in San Casciano and many folkloric festivals.
If you are intentionally (or not) planning on visiting during the Easter holidays, it is best to be prepared on the what, when and where, starting with the events in Florence for March or highlights for April. If you are staying in the countryside of Tuscany, take note of the events in March or April across the region as you organize your itinerary.
The first of the Easter celebrations, starting on Holy Thursday, will have churches opening their doors and welcoming followers to visit their altars which are elaborately decorated with flowers meant to pay respect to Jesus during his time of death and to celebrate His rebirth. All are welcome to visit the churches to see the various celebrations in both the city center and in the surrounding hill towns, thus making this a great day to take a day trip to one of the surrounding towns, including Lucca or Arezzo. Let's take a look at some specific events:
• Castiglione di Garfagnana
In the province of Lucca, there is a traditional Processione dei Crocioni on Holy Thursday during which an anonymous penitent dresses up as Jesus Christ - chained and bearing a Cross - and walks through the narrow streets of the village. If you're in the area, make sure to read more about Garfagnana in general.
After Mass, referred to as "Coena Domini", and the washing of the feet, the historic procession of penance takes place at 8:30 pm. The procession will tour the entire town and then return to the parish church, including chanting of the psalms, choirs in Latin and Miserere.
If you are walking around on Good Friday or the Saturday before Easter, you may catch a glimpse of one of the many religious processions that parade through the city centers of many towns in Tuscany. They can be quite intriguing as participants are dressed up in historic costumes and they proceed through the streets with a statue of the Virgin Mary and Jesus on their shoulders.
• Chianciano Terme
Situated in southern Tuscany, a procession called "Antica Giudeata" is comprised of approximately 150 people and evokes scenes of the passion of Jesus, from the Roman Soldiers on horseback to Christ carrying the cross to Calvary.
The scene is set with many characters in costume, from the Madonna accompanied by the holy women during Pontius Pilate's great procession, including maids and dignitaries. For over 30 years, this procession takes place every year; it starts at 9:30pm, winding its way through the city streets and ends outside the city walls.
The tradition in Pienza on Good Friday includes a procession which starts and ends in front of the Cathedral and entails the statue of Christ preceded by twelve hooded figures from the 'Scalzi' organization who walk barefoot and with torches in their hands, announcing the arrival of the other protagonists of the procession, accompanied by the solemn music of the band.
If you are in Florence, on Good Friday you should head to Grassina, a small town just 15 minutes from the center, to see the Easter Passion Play in which over five hundred locals come together to re-enact the Passion of Christ. The procession passes through the city's center while close by the scenes of Christ are re-enacted with narration and music. You can follow the procession and then arrive for the climax of the Crucifixion on the hill. This tradition is rooted in 300 years of history and starts at 9 p.m. Ticket cost is from € 6,55 to 22,55. Arrive by either by taking bus 31 from Florence or by car. You can read more about the play and re-enactment here and buy tickets from the official site.
• Casole d'Elsa
Every three years (2018 was the last, so you should see this in 2021), during the Easter period, Casole d'Elsa goes back in time with the representation of the Historical Procession of Good Friday starting at 9:30 pm and it is free entrance. The entire historic center will be surrounded by the evocative atmosphere created by the presence of ancient Romans and commoners who will accompany the body of Jesus deposed from the beautiful Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Assunta. On the Monday after Easter there is the Fiera di Albis (more info below).
The Italians have a saying "il giro delle sette chiese" (a trip to the 7 churches) which actually started as an anti-pagan parade on Holy Thursday in the mid 1500's. In an attempt to dissuade the pagan Carnival festivities that took place before the sacred day, followers were invited to follow a procession to visit the 7 most important churches in Rome. Borgo San Lorenzo in Mugello today follows this tradition on Good Friday but, since they only have two churches in the entire town, they hike to other churches nearby, making in an event for the entire day.
Since Italy is a Catholic country, it shouldn't surprise anyone that almost every city and town has its own traditions, right down to the smallest on the map. However, we would like to point out a few of the more "spectacular" shows that you can watch while in Tuscany for Easter.
In celebration of Easter Sunday, Florence celebrates with the Scoppio del Carro, or the Explosion of the Cart, a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages in which an elaborate cart pulled by oxen winds through the city center starting at 10 a.m. and finally stops in front of the Duomo for the big explosion where fireworks are set off from the cart, followed by a final grand parade. The holy spark that lights the flame of the “Scoppio del Carro" is kept under lock in key in one of Florence’s more intriguing little churches, only a short walk away from Ponte Vecchio in the heart of the old Roman section of the city, Borgo Santi Apostoli.
If you're planning to be in Florence on Easter Sunday or Monday, make sure to read this article on Easter in Florence.
A smaller version of the above event also happens in the main piazza (Piazza Umberto I) in Rufina, about 20 minutes from Florence at midnight between Saturday & Sunday. This is an excellent opportunity if you want to experience something similar but perhaps with less of a crowd. The tradition has evolved over the years since the 1930's from a show with a bang, to a splashy display of fireworks and continues to surprise its public every year with a new "Carro".
• Figline Valdarno
This calendar of events is more similar to Florence, starting with a procession where the four "porta" of the town with a parade in colorful costumes from the Renaissance period and after the explosion of the cart the celebration continues with a show by the characteristic flag throwers.
• Porto Santo Stefano
On Easter Sunday, at the first light of dawn a religious procession, with the risen Christ makes its way through the streets of the village. A special moment includes the blessing of the sea: the statue of Christ is carried over to the Port and raised three times, the moored fishing boats respond to the blessing by honking their sirens.
In Italy, the day after Easter, Easter Monday, is known as Pasquetta and it is a national holiday celebrating Jesus after His resurrection. Italians usually spend this day with their families, however, this does not mean the city shuts down and closes its doors because many Italians, as well as tourists alike, enjoy going out to eat and taking a stroll through the center or along the Arno (in Florence and Pisa).
Italians take this day typically to enjoy a picnic with family outdoors with traditional foods of the season such as pecorino cheese, fresh fava beans, bread, olives and red wine. You can easily buy these things at one of the Florentine food markets such as Sant’Ambrogio or San Lorenzo on Saturday and have your own leisurely picnic alongside the locals at one of the many parks in Florence, such as at Le Cascine.
• Easter Egg Hunt in Gardens
In honor of the holidays and the beauty of the gardens in Italy, you will find the Caccia al Tesoro Botanico Grandi Giardini Italiani where several large prominent Italian gardens open their doors to the public and a gigantic Easter egg hunt on the day of Pasquetta, Easter Monday!
In Tuscany, the three gardens open to the public for fun and games: Giardino Bardini (Florence), Giardino Storico Garzoni (Collodi) and Parco della Villa Reale di Marlia (Lucca). Visit this site for more information but essentially the activity keeps the kids busy hunting for eggs while parents get a chance to participate in a guided visit of the park/gardens/museum.
• Visiting Museums
If you want to visit the main museums in Florence on these days, there is no problem as many stay open for both Easter Sunday and announce special openings for Pasquetta (if they are normally closed on Mondays). This is the case for the Uffizi, Accademia and the Pitti Palace (at least part of it). Others, such as the Bargello and the San Marco museum, might be closed on Sunday but open on Pasquetta. Want to read more about the museums around Tuscany? Go to this section and, if you're in Florence, this article has details specific to museums in Florence during the Easter weekend.
• Outdoor Markets
In the spirit of Easter, many towns in Tuscany have outdoor markets selling various things from food to homemade goods to antiques and handcrafts. Siena usually holds a large market all day starting at 9:00 a.m on Easter Monday which sells everything from food and deserts to toys, ceramics, leather goods and books. A trip to Piteglio (Pistoia) on Easter Monday (starting at 2pm) will include the Festa della Farina Dolce: the sweet flavors of chestnut flour in the courtyard of this quaint little town. Taste the local specialties including Necci, Castagnaccio, Frittelle Dolci and Polenta Dolce.
On Pasquetta, there is also a market in Vinci that sells handmade, local goods and in Piazza Matteotti in Greve in Chianti you will find the antique market taking place. In Fiesole, towering just over Florence, there is a small market in the main Piazza Mino where you can find food, wine and various crafts made by locals.
At Casole d'Elsa, on Easter Monday, you will find the "Mercatino di Lunedì in Albis" where artisans spread out across the city center with their antiques and handmade wares from 9am to 8pm.
On this day in Casole, you can also visit the beautiful Archaeological and Collegiata Civic Museum that will start its summer hours from Palm Sunday: 10am-1.30pm and 3:30-6pm. The museum has the beautiful Etruscan sculpture called "testa Bargagli", the "Prophet's Head", work by Marco Romano and paintings by Augusto Bastianini. For more details, check the museum's page on http://www.casole.it/
Christ's Last Supper
When we say Last Supper, many only think of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting on display in Milan, but very few realize that the tradition was started in Florence. Depicting Christ’s last meal before the events of the crucifixion, these paintings are filled with symbolic imagery. Discover some of the most amazing paintings by following an itinerary of the Last Supper Paintings in Florence.
Other Spring Activities
If you are looking for activities that you can do while on vacation that are not tied to the religious events, read our ideas for spring.
The Weather around Easter
A common question asked when making holiday plans is, "what type of weather should I expect for Easter?"
One hopes for sunshine, and mild temps all the time, but each season brings its own range of temperatures and weather conditions, really depending on whether is early or later. Read the below articles so you know how to dress on your vacation in Florence for Easter and in Tuscany in general for March and April.
Whether you are coming to Tuscany and Florence specifically to enjoy the Easter festivities or whether you choose this period for the promise of spring and blossoming climate, we wish you happy travels!