Easter is the 2nd most important religious festival in the Italian calendar (Christmas is first, of course), and although you won’t find yourself on an Easter Egg Hunt or waiting up for the Easter Bunny, there are plenty of traditions across the country that you should definitely check out.
Some of them are traditional, and others are a little more unusual – those are the ones that will be looking at in this article.
So, here you are a list of the events you should not miss if you happen to be in Italy at Easter. If you need a tailor made itinerary, fill out our form and we will get back to you with a trip proposal!
The Pope’s Via Crucis at the Colosseum - Rome/Vatican City
Of course, in an article about Easter traditions in Italy, it’s impossible to ignore the head of the Catholic Church - even though the Vatican is technically a separate country. Each Good Friday, his holiness celebrates Via Crucis, or the Stations of the Cross, at the capital’s famous Roman amphitheatre, the Colosseum.
The Stations of the Cross are described in several languages for the audience who come from all over the world to watch this spectacle of a huge cross lit with burning torches against the inky black Roman sky. When all of the aforementioned Stations have been described, the Pope gives a blessing.
On Saturday, the day prior to Easter Sunday, the Pope holds an Easter Vigil Mass inside Saint Peter's Basilica, which lasts for several hours. On Easter Sunday the Mass is held by the Pope in the St. Peter's Square in the morning, and after that there is the usual Pope blessing urbi et orbi at noon. The attendance is free but it is really suggested to arrive early in the morning in order to find a good place.
Lo scoppio del carro, Florence
If you’re reading this and you know Italian, you may already know that Scoppio del Carro mean ‘the explosion of the cart’. Sounds weird, right? Well, yes it kind of is – but it wouldn’t have got onto this list otherwise!
The city of Florence has been practising this odd tradition since the early 17th century, and it takes place on Easter Sunday. A huge wagon, 2 to 3 stories high, is dragged through the streets of Florence’s historic centre by white oxen. The final stop is Santa Maria Della Fiore, otherwise known as the Duomo – Florence’s cathedral and most recognisable symbol.
The cart is packed with fireworks, and at its final resting stop, Florence’s archbishop shoots a dove-shaped firework into the cart, resulting in a mesmerising display. After the explosions, there’s a parade of revellers in medieval costumes who dance and play music in the streets. You don’t need a ticket for this one but be prepared for enormous crowds!
Traditional Easter dishes - everywhere!
Many of Italy’s traditional celebrations revolve around cuisine, and Easter is no different. Coming at this time of year means you’ll have the opportunity to taste some mouth-watering regional dishes that you won’t see any other time of the year.
Across the country, the traditional main course is agnello al forno con patate, otherwise known as lamb with potatoes. It’s thought to come from the Lazio region and represents the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Other more unusual dishes include are Neapolitan casatiello (savoury bread filled with salamis and cheese), and the Ligurian savoury pie Torta Pasqualina, filled with spinach, eggs, and ricotta cheese. There are a couple of special Easter desserts too, including Colomba from Milan and Pastiera from Campania.
Procession of the mysteries - Trapani, Sicily
Trapani is a great spot to head to during Easter if you’re in Sicily, as you’ll be able to witness the Procession of the Mysteries. This evocative event lasts for a whole 24 hours and has taken place on Good Friday for the last 400 years.
The procession consists of a parade of 20 sculptures kept in the Chiesa delle Anime del Purgatorio and each one represents a Station of the Cross from the passion and the death of Jesus Christ.
Not only will you witness a traditional Easter procession, but if you look closely, you’ll be able to see some authentic Sicilian techniques in the statues, making them truly unique. The statues are made of wooden skeletons mixed with cloth and glue, while the clothes are modelled on a local technique called carchèt.
La madonna che scappa - Sulmona, Abruzzo
Heading to the Abruzzo region now and the city of Sulmona, which has another of Italy’s most unusual Easter rituals. Sulmona is less than 2 hours from Rome by car and if you decide to visit this one, make sure you bring some clothing that’s either green or white – the colours of peace, hope, and resurrection are what everyone will be wearing on Easter Sunday.
The whole city gathers in the main piazza to watch this theatrical re-enactment of ‘the Runaway Virgin’, starring Mary, Peter, and John. When John announces the resurrection of Mary’s son, Jesus Christ, she starts her procession from the Church of San Filippo. She then follows the two apostles to Piazza Garibaldi before finally running to her son, whose resurrected statue is placed on a canopy by the Swabian aqueduct.
Perhaps the most unusual thing about this ceremony is that Mary starts her procession all in black. However, a complicated mechanism means that when she sees Jesus, the cape drops away and she is dressed in green and white, just like all those watching.
Easter Monday - Pasquetta - Everywhere!
"Pasquetta" means little Easter and is more relaxed than the solemn occasions of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Many Italian towns host informal community fetes and it’s a great time to spend outdoors with family or friends. At the fetes, you’ll find dances, free concerts, and games that always involve eggs!
However, eggs are not the main attraction in the Umbrian hill town of Panicale – it’s cheese instead! The, quite frankly, weird game of Ruzzolone is played by rolling a cheese around the city walls. The winner is the person who gets their cheese around the wall in the fewest strokes – and without it falling off!
For those who don’t want to go to something their town has organised, there’s another option. Much like turkey sandwiches on Boxing Day in the UK, Italians often make a picnic of what’s left over from the weekend’s Easter feasts and head out to parks, beaches, or vineyards with their nearest and dearest.
If you wish to spend a special day outdoor, check our day trips and excursions departing from the main Italian cities.