Italy is the land of art and culture and nowhere is this more evident than in its festivals. Carnival in Italy is one of these expressions. Let’s take a trip to Italy to see how the Italians and their beautiful culture enjoy this celebration.
Carnevale is an Italian tradition that hearkens back to the days of pagans in Europe. This carnival is a huge festival that is held all over Italy with the most well-known being held in Venice (Carnevale di Venezia).
The Carnival of Venice
A common saying for Carnival in Italy is ‘A Carnevale Ogni Scherzo Vale’ which means that anything goes at Carnival.
The festival is therefore celebrated with a great range of different events depending on where you are.
- Masquerade balls: these balls use carnival masks and Venice is quite well known for the beautiful and intricate traditional carnival masks it produces for the festival.
- Parades accompanied by music, singing, and dancing are also a favorite activity
- In line with the saying that anything goes, mischief and pranks are also quite common and very enjoyable
Mardi Gras this year falls on February the 17th: let’s briefly explore the most famous Carnival festivities scattered in all parts of Italy.
The Carnival of Venice is, with no doubt, the most famous in Italy country and abroad. Masks and the sumptuous atmosphere that only this unique city can offer, dazzle the tourists who flock to the bridges and canals.
In this period, you may take part in several events. Firstly, if you decide to spend the last long weekend culminating on Mardi Gras, you will enjoy the traditional “Svolo del Leon” (Lion’s Flight). On Tuesday the 17th, at 5.00 PM, a large scenic towel depicting the winged lion symbol of Venice, will be dropped.
Then, an ice-skating rink will be set up in Campo San Polo and, almost every day, a jury awards the best mask.
Moreover, you may go touring theaters. In particular, the Grand Theatre of Piazza San Marco (San Marco Sq.). This great theatrical stage is the heart of the Venice Carnival, allowing the public to experience the events as a leading actor!
In addition to traditional shows, like the “Volo dell’Angelo” (Flight of the Angel), the “Festa delle Marie” and Best Masked Costumes Contest, the Grand Theater of Piazza San Marco hosts performances of the most innovative choreographic show and circus-theater companies. On stage, masks from all around the world parade, and the greatest fun is the imagination in choosing a range of costumes ranging from more traditional to the most innovative and funny ones.
The striking shipyards of the Serenissima Republic of Venice host the second edition of “Notti all’Arsenale” (Nights at the Arsenal). On the 7th and 8th and on the 12th to 17th February, the Venice Arsenal dresses of magic, with theater performances, music and sensational water fireworks, like a kind of Carnival party on its own.
The Arsenale’s spectacular architecture dresses like a theater set, in cooperation with the “La Fenice” Theater and Opera House. Every evening, starting at 7.00 PM, all the most beautiful masks of the Carnival will be accepted, for a completely free performance introduced by the animations of the “Nu ‘Art” Company along the “Riva of Maravegie” (Marvels shore). Several “cichèterie” (typical Venetian bars) prepare food and beverages along a place called “Fondamenta della Darsena Grande” (Foundation of the Big Dock).
Venice is connected with the main Italian cities by rail (both Trenitalia and NTV). If you book in advance you can find cheap deals to reach the city by train or by plane.
The Carnival of Viareggio
Going down to Tuscany, another important event is the Viareggio Carnival. While masked costumes represent the Venice distinctive trait, the parades of allegorical floats are the Viareggio’s ones. It is a colorful, dynamic and always young party that is worth attending, at least once in your life.
In order to see the parades of floats, you must buy a ticket, even the same event day (booking in advance is always recommended). Rates range from 10.00 Euros (for children up to 13 years) to 15.00 Euros for ordinary tickets.
It is advisable to reach the city by car and use the purposed parking areas.
Craftsmen build all the floats inside the Carnival of Viareggio Citadel, opened in 2001, which is the largest and most important thematic center dedicated to Italian masks.
No other major centers focuses on Carnival like this one for size, space, services. Workshops for builders, the hangars in which the giant floats are built and maintained, two museums, a historical documentary center are concentrated here. Everything overlook a huge elliptical square that in summer becomes an arena for big shows.
The triple cannon is the unmistakable signal that the party starts in Viareggio. A cannon shot from the sea kicks off the parade. Every Sundays, on February, giant gargoyles magically come to life with movements, music and dancing. The show is always new, exciting and fascinating.
Five Great Masked Courses concentrate in one single month of great celebrations. In February, Viareggio turns into a fun factory among paper mache giants parades, night parties, fireworks, masked balls, theater performances, culinary events and major world sport events.
After the last Course on the 28th February, a jury chooses the winner floats and assign the reward.
The Carnival of Putignano
Among the most famous celebrations of southern Italy we cannot omit the Carnival of Putignano.
The Putignano Carnival, the oldest in Europe, celebrates ancient traditions, rituals and events since its long history dates back to 1394.
The typical mask of the Carnival of Putignano is named “Farinella”. It was born in the Fifties and bears the name of an ancient peasant poor food, typical of the local cuisine, made of chickpeas and barley flour.
Floats and masks are built with paper mache which is obtained by recycling newspaper sheets, which are modeled with glue mixed with flour and water. It is a material which, although poor, offers surprising expressive potential: the Carnival of Putignano’s floats are the greatest result.
Master craftsmen with wisdom, creativity, passion and determination bring into form, in their sheds, spectacular paper creatures: cheerful allegories of human affairs and, at the same time, real works of art.
Carnival transforms Putignano into a lively open-air theater.
The big Apulian party opens officially on December 26th with a celebration named “Le Propaggini” (the offshoots), while on January 17th, the true carnival party starts. From now on, until the last parade of floats, Thursdays mark the Carnival steps, since they are traditionally dedicated to different categories of individuals, with irony and fun. Every Thursday, the leading actor is, in fact, a particular social group.
The Carnival of Putignano includes appointments where the sacred and the profane merge and mingle in a choral spree. In the past, these events also represented an opportunity to rig up masked dances and banquets in the so-called “jos’r”, the typical cellars and basements of the historical center.