The famed Carnevale di Venezia has very old origins. There are documents as far back as 1268 discussing its games during the celebration. Though the carnival faded after Napoleon’s invasion, it came roaring back again. Today, it is one of this already festive city’s most celebrated events.
It takes place typically in February, and continues for about two weeks, ending with Lent. During this time the streets of Venice become even more crowded than usual. Though, given the city’s population and popularity, it’s hard to conceive.
Revelers will dance in the streets at night in mask and costume and blow horns, sing songs and just generally have a grand time. The idea of mask and costume wasn’t all just for displaying color, however. They provided a means of disguise, an opportunity to be anonymous during the proceedings. So, party-goers could hide their identities and feel free to get wild.
In the present, the event is much less about riot and debauchery than sheer fun. Visitors and locals alike dress in elaborate costumes, often ones extremely expensive to rent. They then don a mask to hide their features and proceed to make merry.
Those masks and costumes run the gamut. Some masks resemble the traditional Commedia dell’Arte smiling or frowning face. Others look more or less like ordinary people. Still more are pig-snouts, Pinocchio or a hundred other possibilities. There is Pulcinella displaying a cone-shaped hat and beaked mask. There is the Arlecchino, the diamond pattern costume. Ostrich feathers, multi-colored silks and many more items combine to create the total effect.
But the carnival is not all individual chaos by the dressed and disguised. There are many planned events, hosted by the city and businesses.
The Volo dell’Angelo (Flight of the Angel) reveals the religious aspect that still hovers over some aspects of the event. A woman dressed as an angel slides down on ropes from the Campanile in the Piazza San Marco, the famed public square outside St. Mark’s Basilica.
There is the Volo della Colombina, in which a mechanical bird makes a similar flight from the belltower near the cathedral. Its colorful plumage is only outdone by that worn by the revelers themselves.
There are costume balls, concerts, special dinners and much more.
Gondola rides down the Grand Canal take on an especially delightful air during the festivities. The already beautiful boats are decorated and one can observe costumed merry-makers gliding down the waterway singing lusty songs.
There are mask parades in St. Mark’s Square and a fireworks display. And, of course, there are thousands of private parties that often spill out on to the streets or get invaded by those already on them.
Come visit Venice during Carnival time and you’ll leave wondering why you ever thought Mardi Gras was anything special.