Today is the first day of carnevale in Italy. For the next seventeen days, Italians will celebrate this festive period before the forty austere days of Lent begin. The two largest and most popular carnevali in Italy are the carnevale di Venezia and the carnevale di Viareggio (in Toscana). The carnevale di Venezia dates back to the 11th century. Revelers would celebrate for two months straight, and the tradition lasted until the 18th century, when it fell into decline. Carnevale wasn’t revived in Venice until 1979 and has continued with great success since then. The carnevale di Viareggio began in 1873 and is famous for its colorful and whimsical papier mâché floats. Carnevale parades and celebrations also take place in smaller cities and towns across the peninsula, many of them with rich histories and traditions (the carnevale di Ivrea is an interesting one). However, of all the carnevali throughout Italy, both large and small, none other is more beautiful and and famous than the carnevale di Venezia.
Piazza San Marco is the epicenter of carnevale, and the site of the maschera più bella (most beautiful mask) contest. Costumes depict court jesters, princes, princesses, Casanova, animals, celestial bodies, European royalty, fantastical characters, among many other creations. The costumes worn by carnevale participants are eclectic, opulent, elaborate, and always colorful. Participants with sartorial talent will often make their own costume each year, but there are a number of exclusive Venetian ateliers who will create a custom-made costume (for a small fortune, no doubt). The mask completes and coordinates with every costume and allows the wearer to stride through the city veiled in anonymity. The carnevale di Venezia boasts a dizzying events schedule ranging from the two-part opening ceremony, to cultural events, concerts, exhibits, and costume contests. The main carnevale attraction are the parties which range from impromptu gatherings in any given piazza or alley, to posh, exclusive galas like Il ballo del Doge.
If you’re fortunate to travel to Italy to experience the carnevale di Venezia, you may have to brave cold and damp weather (and maybe some flooding), but it certainly is a small price to pay to experience one of the most beautiful and unique events in the world.