Think Phantom of the Opera, think masked balls, think period dress and painted white faces. The Venice Carnival is the annual event that boasts elegance, fun and plenty of great entertainment.
The Venice Carnival takes place every year on the picturesque islands in the province of Veneto. The Carnival begins two Saturdays before Ash Wednesday (a religious observance begins) and finishes on Shrove Tuesday, also known as Pancake Day.
Celebrations last for twelve magnificent days and nights with celebrations taking form in performance art, music, theatre, staged shows and culinary delights.
Where does it take place?
The Carnival takes place on the actual island of Venice, in the Veneto region of Italy. If you look at Italy as a boot, Venice is near the top, a train ride away from the east coast. The city isn’t far from Padua, so if hotels are too pricey in the city, then staying in Padua is your next best option.
If you’re planning on visiting Venice during the carnival, but staying in a different city in Italy, details are found below on how best to get to and from the island. But remember, as Venice is the north of Italy, don’t expect glorious sunshine during February. In fact, you may be faced with rain and strong winds so be prepared to get cold.
History of carnival in Venice
Since the 15th century, the city of Venice has been celebrating the Carnival. Historically, popular entertainment surrounding the event consisted of masked balls and other not-so-animal-friendly activities such as firing live dogs from cannons and bull-baiting.
By the 18th century, the activities of Venice lasted nearly two months into the new year, however, the event became less popular after Napoleon seized control of the city in 1797 and celebrations were completely abandoned when Mussolini prohibited people from wearing masks.
The tradition wasn’t forgotten and the Venice Carnival started again in 1979 and is now proud to be on the stage alongside Rio in Brazil and Notting Hill in London, as one of the world’s grandest carnivals and a must-see expression of decadence.
La Festa delle Marie procession
The celebrations of the Venice Carnival 2016 will start with the La Festa delle Marie procession, which goes on throughout the city. The ‘Festa delle Marie’ evokes the story of when the Venetian Doge offered twelve beautiful but humble Venetian girls fabulous jewels as a bridal dowry. This procession is presented in numerous ways but it is this occasion which celebrates and admires traditional Venetian period costumes.
The ‘Festa delle Marie’ is effectively the grand opening of the carnival on the Saturday, where a masked procession will finish at the main square, Piazza San Marco and is where the ‘Marias’ will be presented to the awaiting crowd.
Gran Ballo delle Maschere
This is the much-awaited Grand Masked Ball. It is this event which is the top highlight of the entire festival. The location of this event alters every year, but this year it will take place in the mighty Palazzo Flangini. The grand palace chosen this year does not disappoint.
Expect lots of colours, surprises and grand entertainment. An incredible banquet dinner is offered with lots of complimentary drinks of the best Italian produce. During the dinner, Venetian and fantasy characters perform during the ball.
The celebrations continue on through the night after dinner, where the ground floor hosts DJs who pipe music through a sizable sound system.
Anyone who has a proper costume, a mask and is capable of dancing the quadrilles and other various step dances, passed down through the ages is more than welcome to enter and take part.
This is a well-loved water parade of the Carnival. With music and lots of energy, this parade will sail along the Canal Grande to the district of Cannaregio.
There, the audience can watch these magnificent and unique boats float by. It is this part of the carnival where all the gastronomic stalls are with delicacies and other food specialities of the region being on offer.
This is one of the glorious Italian foodie events which boasts the freshest, most traditional treats out there. So after enjoying the first part of the Festa Veneziana on Saturday 23rd January at 6pm at the same location, go to Rio di Cannaregio for a wander and some incredible food. Here, you really see local traditions at its best. Not to be missed.
Why the Famous Masks?
A number of the masks represent characters of the Commedia dell’Arte. The white-beaked mask is the plague-doctor. The beak resembles a doctor’s breathing apparatus that held a vinegar doused-sponge and herbs, thought to ward off the bubonic plague.
The Dogues were depicted by the “danger masks” that were allowed. They passed laws which limited their use within the carnival. If masks were worn at an alternative time of year, a severe penalty was issued.
The masks are what make the Venice Carnival so unique. Wearing a mask hides the social status (and identity) of the person behind it. With this disguised aspect, Venice briefly overthrows her social order and allows all to be seen as equal and to behave accordingly.