Top to-do tips and traditions during Easter in Italy

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Thinking of visiting Italy in Easter?

Easter is one of Italy’s favourite holidays. Shop shelves are bursting with giant chocolate eggs and families stockpile ‘colombe di Pasqua’ (traditional dove-shaped Easter cake) and other treats for the upcoming festivities.  

Whether you’re religious or not, Pasqua (Easter) is a fantastic time to visit Italy. The weather is warm and there’s plenty of fascinating traditions to witness. Think running monks, gigantic statues, colorful processions and more than one larger-than-life reenactment. Easter is also a rare chance for tourists to mix with the locals as they descend on Italy’s piazzas and streets to celebrate this religious holiday as a community.

In 2019, celebrations begin on April 14 and end on Easter Sunday (April 20), so if you’re wondering what to do in Easter in Italy, we’re put together a guide to the best events, as well as some tips for experiencing this holiday to the fullest.

Psssst our Progressive Dinner Crawl on Easter Sunday and “Pasquetta” Monday will be featuring an Easter-themed menu (thing spring-veg pastas, artichokes, lamb, etc) and our Gourmet Food Lover’s Tour will sample Easter sweet specialties, too!

Photo: Celuici via Wikipedia Commons

Photo: Celuici via Wikipedia Commons

The Scoppio del Carro, Florence

If you’re in Florence on the morning of Easter Sunday, don’t miss the ‘Scoppio del Carro’, an ancient tradition that dates back more than 350 years.

A 30-foot tall antique cart is pulled by white oxen during a parade of 150 soldiers, musicians and others dressed in 15th-century garb. The procession departs from Porta al Prato and arrives at Piazza del Duomo, where the cart is parked for mass in the Cathedral.

Around 11am, the Archbishop of Florence lights ‘La Colombina’, a rocket shaped dove holding an olive branch. The dove ‘flies’ along a cable and hits the cart (don’t worry, the oxen aren’t still there), setting off the fireworks mounted on top.

According to tradition, if the Colombina returns to the altar, the year will be a positive and fertile one.

Photo: Puscas Vadim via Wikipedia Commons

Photo: Puscas Vadim via Wikipedia Commons

Stroll to the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca, Bologna

In Bologna, the celebrations are a less extravagant, but the food is not. Famous for being one of the more “golosa” or gluttonous cities in Italy, Bologna has a host of unique Easter dishes. Tortellini in brodo (tortellini in broth) are served at Easter Sunday lunch alongside lasagne made with seasonal spinach or asparagus.

Together with all that pasta are more carbs in the form of piadina, crescentine or tigelle – types of bread native to Emilia-Romagna and served with mortadella, prosciutto and squacerone cheese! 

As for events, on Easter Monday, it’s tradition to stroll along the arcades from the Meloncello to arrive, a little out of breath, at the entrance of the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca. After a short visit to the Madonna, the locals head to the lawn for a traditional Easter picnic in the sun.

Pssssst our Bologna La Grassa Food Tour will be running during Easter time and you’ll be able to taste some of the city’s traditional specialties!

Photo: Adnkronos via Wikipedia Commons

Photo: Adnkronos via Wikipedia Commons

Via Crucis Al Colosseo, Rome

On Good Friday, the Pope delivers mass at Saint Peter’s Basilica at 5pm. Afterwards, he starts his walk in memory of Christ’s Via Crucis starting at the Palatine Hill. After making the 14 Stations of the Cross, the procession ends at the Colosseum.

The tradition dates to the 18th century and was revived in 1964. Originally, the pope carried the cross from station to station but, old age has kept many modern popes from doing so, and now most preside over the ceremony from a stage on the Palatine Hill while others carry the cross.

Regardless, the entire scene is evocative and magical, lit by the many pilgrims who follow the procession with torches and candles.

Photo: ManfredK via Wikipedia Commons

Photo: ManfredK via Wikipedia Commons

La Madonna che Scappa, Sulmona, L’Aquila, Abruzzo

On Easter Sunday, a procession begins at the medieval Church of Santa Maria della Tomba, headed by the extremely big and extremely heavy statues of the Risen Christ, Saint John and Saint Peter.

Bearers carry these statues to announce the news of the Resurrection to Jesus’ mother, the Madonna of Loreto. She refuses to hear it, and Saints John and Peter implore her to come out of the church. Eventually, she agrees and the procession continues.

Then, all of a sudden, the Madonna breaks into a dash, discarding her black mantle as she rushes to meet her son, accompanied by exploding firecrackers.

Also, did we forget to mention that the Madonna is actually a statue? Yep, the poor men carrying her are the ones running and every year, everyone worries she’ll fall off the platform as they sprint. Historical falls in both 1914 and 1940 are considered by locals to be harbingers of the subsequent world wars.

Photo: Giuseppe Assenza via Wikipedia Commons

Photo: Giuseppe Assenza via Wikipedia Commons

Vasa Vasa, Modica, Sicily

On Easter Sunday morning, Modica also reaches for its statues, but instead of just one procession, there are two. One is led by statue of the Risen Christ and the other by the Virgin Mary clad in black.

Both tour the town on separate routes before meeting in Corso Umberto. Here the Virgin is so happy to see her son, her arms move from her side as she reaches to embrace him.  

She plants two kisses on his cheek to the sound of a brass band, church bells and fireworks. This is called ‘Vasa Vasa’ in the Sicilian dialect. Overcome with joy, confetti bursts from the Virgin’s golden crown and the party can begin!

Curious about the “quaresima” specialties of Modica? Check this article by Curious Appetite founder Coral on Modica’s meat-chocolate cookie for Saveur Magazine!

Photo: Paola Sersante via Wikipedia Commons

Photo: Paola Sersante via Wikipedia Commons

A few tips for what to do in Easter in Italy

What to see: A lot of the city’s museums are open on Easter Sunday and Monday, although there may be some locals added to the usual tour crowds. That said, always check online for tickets beforehand.

What to eat: Traditionally, Italians eat roast lamb with plenty of sides for lunch. The lamb is roasted simply over an open grilled and served with nothing more than a little oil, salt and pepper.

What to eat for dessert: Traditional Italian Easter breads include the the dove-shaped ‘colomba’ cake. In the south, the pastiera napoletana, a cake flavored with ricotta, eggs, soft wheat, orange blossom water and spices, is traditional in Naples, while in Sicily, the locals dig into a cassata (ricotta cake flavoured with candied fruit).  In Toscana, they prefer a Schiacciata di Pasqua, a simple sweet bread made with ricotta.

What to do on Easter Monday: Italians often spend Easter Monday with their friends either enjoying a barbecue or a picnic by a lake or river outside of the city.

So when in Rome or Florence or Bologna or wherever, do as the locals do and head into the countryside for an Easter picnic!

Looking for more travel in Italy advice? Be sure to check out our food blog and check out our food tours in Florence for when you need a break from the crowded museums! Our tours are small and expert-led, come eat with us!