Italy’s Carnivale di Venezia: Days of Colour and Mystery
The historical streets of Venice, Italy once a year transforms into a regal, fantasy world full of mystery, pomp and colour just before Lent. This is what happens during Carnivale di Venezia or Carnival of Venice.
Carnivale di Venezia boasts of being a very elegant and upscale event. It draws on fantasy, myth and nature to create a mysterious ambiance of revelry and excess. Revellers wear period costumes and masks during the two weeks of Carnivale. Because they are disguised, there is an excuse to behave differently and boldly.
Just like other Carnivals around the world, Carnivale di Venezia is a celebration of opulence and feasting right before the solemn and Spartan Christian season of Lent. The Carnivale starts a little more than 2 weeks before Ash Wednesday. This year, it starts on 15 February and ends on 4 March. In Venice, it culminates at the San Marco Square.
The origins of such a lavish festivity can be traced back to the year 1162, when the Republic of Venice (Serenissima) won against the patriarchy of Ulrich II von Treven. These original Carnivale celebrations included dancing and reunions on the streets. It became an official event during the Renaissance, peaking in the 18th century when Venice became the pleasure capital of Europe.
Napoleon is credited to have abolished the Carnivale when he invaded Venice in 1797. It would be 200 years later, in 1979, when Carnivale was revived. Today, the festival is celebrated to commemorate Venice’s rich history and culture.
During Carnivale, aside from freedom to wear lavish costumes and masks, revellers and visitors are also treated to various exhibitions, conferences, movies, dancing, food, performances, music concerts, competitions, tours, circus, parties and balls. Carnivale culminates in a number of grand parades that fall on the last Saturday and Tuesday of the festival.
The ‘Flight of the Angel’ or ‘Flight of the Dove’ is one of the most looked-out for events during Carnivale and falls on the second Sunday. The Flight of the Angel is a traditional event dating back to the Serenissima period wherein one guest ‘flies’ along a rope from San Marco bell tower to the middle of the square. This is done in homage to the Doge or Duke of Venice who is re-enacted during Carnivale.
The la maschera più bella or the most beautiful mask competition is another major highlight of the festival. Visitors flock to see the costumed revellers because it is during the parade where the best of the best can be seen. The quest to look for the most beautiful mask is a daily event where revellers will parade in front of judges at the San Marco Square. The grand final falls on the last Sunday.
One of the appeals of Carnivale di Venezia is the chance to wear masks or maschera for a few days. The masks allow revellers to take on alter egos and play their characters to their heart’s content for two weeks. The masks provide revellers the chance to be anonymous for a few days. This makes them very important for Venetians, so important that the artisans behind the masks are honoured in their community.
Significance of Carnivale as a fantasy hotspot makes it a gateway of Eastern and Western myths and literature. The uniqueness and size of the Carnivale di Venezia festival draws around 3 million visitors from around the world every year.