Carnival public events in Venice were first mentioned in 1094. But the official document declaring carnival a public holiday appeared only in 1296. The meaning of the feast is brilliantly explained by the meaning of the word «carnival» — it comes from the Latin «carne», which means «meat», and «vale» which means «goodbye». In the Middle Ages, this holiday was timed by the church to the beginning of fasting, and after the feast, citizens stopped eating meat for 40 days.
The Italians borrowed the custom of disguising their faces from the ancient Romans in order to remove for a short time the immutable social framework and class prejudices that would prevent everyone from having fun and relaxing during the celebration. But the people of Venice hid their faces not only during the carnival. For a long time, Venetians had a special «mask culture». Townspeople could wear them on certain weekdays. However, at some point, the local authorities had to prohibit the wearing of masks outside holidays. The reason for this decision was the frequent abuse of the right to cover the face. Thus, some townspeople, taking advantage of their anonymity and impunity, committed disreputable acts: frequented brothels, plundered and swindled, and organized coups.
With the arrival of Napoleon Bonaparte in Italy in 1797, the tradition of carnival disappeared. The French emperor forbade the event, apparently fearing assassination attempts and conspiracies under masks. So Venice had forgotten about its grand festival for almost 200 years.
Fortunately for everyone, in 1979 Italian patriots headed by famous film director Federico Fellini revived the tradition by obtaining permission from the Pope. And now everyone has the opportunity to plunge into the wonderful atmosphere of festivity and fairy tales.
What’s in the program?
As a rule, the carnival lasts 18 days, begins on Saturday, and ends on the last Tuesday before fasting — this day is called Fat Tuesday. But there are no clear dates because the masquerade period is tied to Easter and changes every year. In 2022, the celebration will begin on Feb. 12 and end on March 1. To learn about the news, as well as to explore the carnival program, visit the Carnevale di Venezia website and the Venice Carnival website. The main action of the carnival takes place in the main square of the city San Marco. The traditional program of the Venetian festival includes a number of key events:
- La Festa Veneziana sull'acqua (Venice Festival on the Water), takes place on the Saturday 18 days before the start of fasting.
- Carnival Regatta — The day after the water festival, a procession of decorated boats and gondolas with costumed paddlers ply the Grand Canal.
- A competition for the best carnival mask and costume. The contest is completely free to enter, but requires pre-application on the website and note that costumes and masks must match the carnival theme.
- Festa Delle Marie is a competition in which 12 Venetian beautiful girls take part.
- «The Flight of the Angel» (Il Volo dell'Angelo) is an event in Piazza San Marco that officially opens the carnival celebration. «The flight» is organized the day after the festival of Maria. During this unusual spectacle, the most beautiful Venetian woman in the costume of an angel descends from the bell tower of San Marco on ropes.
- «Flight of the Eagle» (Il Volo dell'Aquila) — here the main character is one of Italy's outstanding athletes.
- The finale of the costume and mask contest, where the winners in two categories: «best carnival costume» and «best carnival mask» are determined.
- «Flight of the Lion» (Svolo del Leon) is the final event of the carnival. It is held on Fat Tuesday, which is followed by a forty-day fast before Easter. On this day, a huge flag depicting the winged Lion, the symbol of Venice, flies over Piazza San Marco as it ascends the bell tower.
How to get to the Venice Carnival?
Anyone can attend the celebrations in Venice, and it is not necessary to have a luxurious costume in the medieval style, or to spend a lot of money on accommodation and food.
Surprisingly, the carnival days in Venice are not the peak season. The bulk of tourists usually goes to Italy in the warm season. So, for example, the cost of hotel rooms will not be inflated by the holiday. The same applies to prices in cafes and restaurants. Masks can be purchased on the spot in special shops, spending only 5-10 euros. Or do not use any carnival attributes at all - it does not prevent you from taking part in the event and having fun.
But if you still decide to fully immerse yourself in tradition and attend the carnival in a luxurious outfit, then in this case you can also save money by using, for example, carnival costume rentals. Prices for renting one costume for a day range from 110 to 500 euros. It will be much cheaper than buying a costume in a store or making it to order.
What else to do in Venice during Carnival
When tourists come to Venice for the carnival, they often take the opportunity to visit other places of interest in the city. What we recommend visiting Venice:
- Doge's Palace
- The Grand Canal
- Saint Mark's Basilica
- Piazza San Marco
- Teatro La Fenice
- Cannaregio district
- Ponte Di Rialto Bridge
You can also go on a short trip to northern Italy, where you will also find many interesting and popular locations, such as:
- The fashion’s capital Milan
- Lakes Garda, Maggiore and Briese
- Novacella Abbey
- Ortisei ski resort
- The city of Merano with its mountain views
- The city of Bergamo
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