Italy’s pride and most important carnivals, Carnevale di Venezia or Carnival of Venice reflects the grandiose culture of the Venetians as well as its rich history and craftsmanship. Culture lovers are acquainted with the familiar sights of Venice’s carnival marked with masks and flamboyant costumes.
But is it more than fanfare? Getting to know this festival is digging deeper into the rich and intriguing past not just of Venice and Italians, but way to back to Roman era.
The Fanfare Begins
Carnevale di Venezia is held two Saturdays before Ash Wednesday and official ends on Shrove Tuesday, which is the start of the Lent. Lent is a 40-day season leading up to Easter Sunday. Lent, as most people know is the most important season among Roman Catholics as it leads to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. During this time, believers are encouraged to penance like eating meat.
The word Carnevale means, “ farewell to meat”, and the root of this occasion is to give citizens a chance to celebrate before the observance of the Lenten Season, marked with abstinence, penance and worldly sacrifices.
Venice’s Grand Festivities
For two weeks, Venice holds various merrymaking activities all over the city and takes full swing on the last weekend as the highlight of the Carnival of Venice. Locals and tourists alike don fancy costumes with that signature masks – attending the Carnival in invalid if you don’t wear a mask.
A nice time to observe and go people watching, participants love wearing their costumes. They don’t mind being photographed while others are competitive enough to try their luck winning the annual Best Masked Costumes.
The buzz of the festival is loudly felt at St. Mark’s Square. During the highlight of the festival, the square becomes a see of flamboyance bordering gaudiness. The atmosphere is contagious as more and more people traipse along the alleys and posing in front of the city’s famous landmarks. Of course, this can be attributed to the mask hiding the identity of the participant, shedding some inhibitions.
St. Mark’s Square is where the crowd collides but the official venue of Carnevale di Venezia is the city’s historic shipyard of Arsenale. Organizers have made it let the crowd proceed from St. Mark’s Square to the Arsenale.
What awaits you during the highlight of the Carnival of Venice?
Various programs are prepared with something new along the way but there have been favorites that organizers decide to keep them as long-lived traditions of the Carnival. One of these is Volo dell ‘Angelo or “ flight of an angel”, a pageantry of acrobatic performances tracing all the way to Turkish entertainers in the 1500s.
There is also Kids’ Carnival, reenactments of military achievements and defeats as well as performances from various street artists and bands. Of course, the contest of the best costume is the most awaited part.
In between these programs are other events spearheaded by market players such as business owners. Parties and balls are everywhere during the Carnival, some reserved for the most affluent party animals. Palaces and hotels are top venues but the most prominent is the Grand Masquerade Ball at Palazzo Flagini. Carnevale di Venezia culminates with a dazzling fireworks display at the lagoon.
Venice becomes intensely packed with people and rates from hotels to restaurants go high. Thus, book your holiday in Venice ahead of time if you want to save. The best time be a part is during the final weekend, when all major activities are held.
Check out parties and never leave your mask. There are many cheaper masks you can buy but, it is still awesome to wear beautiful masks produced by the city’s local artists. If you are looking for artisan masks, check out Ca Macana, Tragicoma, and Papier Mache.
For costume, you can go for the large cloak called tabaroo or wear a ball-ready baroque dress. There are many shops in Venice who rent out these elaborate Carnival gowns and costumes.
The Story Behind Fancy Dresses and Masks
The concrete image of the Carnevale di Venezia is masks from elaborate artisan masks to simple white masks known as volto complemented with elaborate dresses and costumes. All this is a portrayal of lavish Venetian life especially during the 18th century. Up to the present, the atmosphere tries to bring back what the Carnival was back in the day – magnificent to the point of hedonism.
During the height of the Venetian Republic, the Carnival of Venice was observed with utmost elegance and level of merry-making crossing social classes and any affiliation among citizens. Thus, the need for a mask to conceal the identity of the wearer, giving more freedom to enjoy the parties of the Carnival.
Italian society is marked with social classes, religion, and gender. Back when Romans celebrate winter with fertility festivals, everyone wears mask to give freedom for both slaves and owners to enjoy the party. Masks are also worn during gambling.
And in the celebration of the Carnival in a city as small as Venice, everyone can enjoy without any detection, thanks to the masks. Venice’s party of the year plays its significance where everyone can mingle without any prejudice or hesitation based on social class, religion, and even gender. Everyone becomes equal in pursuit for pleasure and entertainment.
The earliest record of the Carnival is way back 13th century until the 18th century when the Venetian Republic declined with Bonaparte’s conquest. The fascist dictator Mussolini is one of the leaders who banned masks.
It was in 1979 that a group revived Venice’s Carnival as one of the ways to promote tourism even during colder weather when then the usual tourists are low. Thanks to this move, Venice comes even more alive.
Surely it was a success with every year full of anticipation from locals to visiting tourists. Today, Carnevale di Venezia is one of the top carnivals in the world and one of the reasons why people visit and enjoy a city as lovely as Venice.