The Carnival in Venice (Carnevale) is a deliciously decadent annual celebration when revellers take to the streets and waterways of the enchanting floating city. Central to the celebration are wearing lavish costumes and hand-painted masks that hark back to the 11th century. What to expect? Gala dinners, parades, dances, fancy masquerade balls, and plenty of musical events.
The festival draws thousands to the magical city of Venice to fete in the shadow of St Mark's Basilica. Fireworks light the sky and the celebrations continue for the two weeks leading up to Lent. Here's a little lesson in Carnevale 101, the basics to help you party hearty.
Stories vary, but it's generally believed the Carnival of Venice began as a celebration of the victory over the Patriarch of Aquileia in 1162. To celebrate, Venetians took to the streets with dancing and singing in Piazza San Marco. The event became officially sanctioned during the Renaissance.
The 2017 Carnival of Venice dates are February 11 to 28. Carnevale is celebrated around the world, but Venice certainly has the most famous party.
Today, the brightly-coloured outfits are meant to emulate Venetian's prosperous Renaissance era.
Central to Venetian carnival is masks. At one time, Venetians wore masks starting in October until Shrove Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent). This reached its height in the 18th century, when Venetians were wearing masks for six months a year!
In the 11th century the custom of wearing masks was meant to be a class equalizer. Noblemen and commoners could intertwine, as their identities were hidden behind a mask. Authors and playwrights have used this device in the plot lines for centuries.
Traditional Venetian masks were made of leather, porcelain, or using a Murano glass technique. Today masks are made from gesso, gold leaf, feathers and costume jewels. Mask makers (mascherari) were once esteemed artisans with their own laws and guild. There's still a competition to name the "Best Masked Costume".
Carnival events happen in campos (districts) across Venice with masked processions — like Sfilata delle Mascheri (fancy dress parades) and Gran Corteo Storico (the Great Historic Parade). There are daily parades, street performers, clowns and dancers in Piazza San Marco. Other popular events are the King's Banquet, the Masquerade Ball, and the Carnival in Love Ball.
During the 40 days of Lent, parties are off-limits, as is consuming rich foods like meat and alcohol. Italians traditionally get their fill of rich food and drink before Lent. The word carnevale has Latin roots — carne (meat) and vale (farewell) = farewell to meat.
By the late 18th century, Venice's carnival festivities were in decline. In the 1930s, as Italy fought economic unrest, Italian dictator Mussolini banned the celebrations altogether. But then, in 1979, a group of Venetian artists and artisans got together to re-ignite Carnevale. It was a hit and it's been running continuously ever since. It's now the biggest celebration in the City of Islands.
Popular carnival foods are fritole — sweet dough with candied fruit, raisins and pine nuts — and galani — made with grappa, prosecco and lemon zest. Carnevale treats are always made crispy by deep frying. In fact, there's even a competition among Venetian patisseries to decide the best fritole.
Wear a costume & a mask, and attend the opening event called the Flight of the Angel — Volo dell'Angelo — where a brave Venetian jumps off the bell tower (attached to a rope) and lands in the middle of Piazza San Marco. (Don't try this, though. Just wear the mask!)
• October 2016 in Venice…
• November 2016 Venice Events…
• December & Natale 2016…
• Carnival in Venice 2017…