Divine inspiration: Where to celebrate Easter in Europe
Join in with traditional festivities during a seasonal sojourn to one of these colourful cities
Three hours by car from Athens, Leonidio is one of the best places in which to participate in Greece's rich and varied Easter traditions. The most spectacular takes place the evening before Easter Sunday, and sees locals gather in the central square of the town before setting off a colourful array of hundreds of balloons into the sky at midnight, marking "Christos Anesti" – Christ is risen. In the weeks leading up the event, local children raise money after every Friday's church service to make as many balloons as possible, leading to friendly competition between the parishes. Easter in the Greek Orthodox Church usually falls on a different date to Easter in the UK as they use a different calendar system in their church. However this year both celebrations happen to fall on the same weekend in April.
The main focus throughout Spain is on Santa Semana – or Holy Week – which this year runs from 9 to 15 April. Thousands flock to daily processions that snake through the streets, featuring impressive floats depicting Christ and the Virgin Mary. These are followed by the Nazarenos dressed in distinctive penitential robes and wearing tall pointed hoods with eyeholes, originally designed so the wearer could repent in anonymity. While these parades vary from region to region, Seville puts on one of the most lavish and elaborate displays, marking what is one of the most important annual celebrations in the city.
Rome – and particularly Vatican City – may seem an obvious destination when it comes to marking a Christian festival, but Florence promises just as dramatic a display. The culmination on Easter Sunday is the scoppio del carro – or explosion of the cart – which sees an elaborate 30-foot wagon, filled with fireworks, wheeled through the city. When it reaches its final destination outside Il Duomo de Firenze, the Archbishop of Florence lights a dove-shaped rocket (symbolising the Holy Spirit), which makes its way down a wire to collide with the explosives and set off an impressive pyrotechnic show.