Carnevale Venizia: Inside Italy's Venice Carnival

The world's best-known baroque fancy-dress party - just as extravagant as Rio's Carnaval - celebrates the approach of spring with refined gusto. Welcome to Venice's Carnevale.

Location

Venice, Italy. Piazza San Marco is the focus of the festival.

Dates

Begins two Fridays before Ash Wednesday, finishing on Shrove Tuesday.

Description

The high point in Venice’s social calendar, Carnevale is a masked extravaganza, and your chance to spend 12 days looking like the Phantom of the Opera. The world’s best-known baroque fancy-dress party, it’s as extravagant as Rio’s Carnaval is riotous, celebrating the approach of spring with refined gusto.

Venetians have been celebrating Carnevale since at least the 15th century. In those days private clubs organised masked balls, and popular entertainment included such gentle fun as bull-baiting and firing live dogs from cannons. By the 18th century Venice was in the grip of hedonism, and the licentious goings-on of Carnevale lasted two months. The event fell into decline after the city was seized by Napoleon in 1797, and was abandoned when Mussolini banned the wearing of masks. It was revived in 1979, once again staking its place among the world’s finest festivals.

The festivities begin on the Friday afternoon with La Festa delle Marie, a procession through the city. This is a precursor to the official opening on Saturday, when a masked procession leaves Piazza San Marco around 4pm and circulates through the streets. The next day there are jousts and other mock-military tournaments.

The following Friday evening sees the festival’s high point, the Gran Ballo delle Maschere (Grand Masked Ball), or Doge’s Ball, which takes place in different locations each year – usually a suitably grand palace is chosen for the event. Anyone with proper costume and mask who is able to dance the quadrilles and other steps of a few centuries ago may join in. Tickets can cost in excess of €200, plus the outlay for costume hire.

Saturday and Sunday are given over to musical and theatrical performances in Piazza San Marco and other locations. Calcio storico (a medieval approximation of football in period costume) matches are played on Piazza San Marco, also the scene for a parade of the best and most ornate costumes (the parade is repeated on Tuesday). On the Sunday, a beautiful procession of decorated boats and gondolas carrying masked passengers wends its way serenely down the Grand Canal.

During the course of the festivities, plenty goes on outside the main events. Street performers fill the main thoroughfares and squares and an ice-skating rink is sometimes set up in Campo San Polo.

Level of Participation

3 – don a mask and join in the famous ball.

Essentials

To really enjoy the Carnevale spirit you’ll need a mask, at the least. Two of the finest mask makers are Ca’ Macana and L’Arlecchino. Reservations for the masked ball can be made through the Carnevale website.

Other Local Attractions

Float through canals in a gondola, wander the labyrinthine alleys and admire the golden gleam of St Mark’s Basilica.

More Info: Carnevale Venezia

Want to know more about Italy? Listen to the World Nomads podcast. A couple of places in Italy you won’t find in a guidebook – food that reduces you to tears – and what does it take to get your travel photos on the World Nomads Instagram page.

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