For two weeks before Lent, Venice, which already attracts romantics from around the world all year round, is filled with bright masks, carnival costumes, music and laughter. Probably everyone has heard of the Venice Carnival, and more than half a million connoisseurs of the magical atmosphere of a medieval holiday come to admire this miracle every year.
A bit of history
Very soon, the Venice Carnival will celebrate its millennium anniversary, although the tradition of hiding faces at the festival appeared in ancient times. This helped aristocrats and commoners have fun together, forgetting about prejudice. By the 18th century, the carnival had become what we used to see it now – lush, rich, full of mysterious traditions and symbolism.
Now it’s hard to believe, but for almost 200 years the carnival has been banned. Celebrating it ceased after the fall of Venetian statehood on the orders of the Austrian emperor. He returned thanks to Federico Fellini, who sought his renewal in 1979.
The carnival lasts 18 days, the dates change every year depending on the date of the beginning of Lent. In 2018 – from January 27 to February 13. The noisiest celebrations take place on Saturdays and Sundays. It all starts with the appearance of Colombina over San Marco Square, a paper white dove scattering confetti. After catching at least one color sparkle, put it in your wallet: it will lure wealth all next year. After that, the holiday overflows all the streets and canals.
On the first Saturday of the carnival (this year, February 3), Maria’s festival (Festa delle Marie) takes place: 12 girls in old costumes parade from the church of San Pietro di Castello to St. Mark’s Square, where they choose “Mary of the Year”. She is solemnly crowned on the last day of the carnival. It came from the ancient tradition of collective blessing and giving doges to poor brides. On Saturday and Sunday, Cannaregio hosts the Festival of All Venetians (La Festa Veneziana) with tasting of national dishes, songs and dances. On Sunday afternoon, a parade of carnival gondolas is held here.
At noon on the first Sunday, February 4, you can watch “Flight of the Angel”: a girl in a suit descends the rope from the bell tower of San Marco to the square. This ancient tradition was revived only in 2001 – since 1759 flights have been banned due to the tragedy that happened with the stunt acrobat. Another flight will happen in a week – Orla: a similar event, but another girl will fly in a different suit.
Since 2002, another tradition has emerged – in Mestre, the mainland suburb of Venice, a gymnast in a donkey costume made a flight from the window of the town hall. This parody of Angel’s flight has become very popular, moreover, every year new interpretations await the audience, and famous artists and athletes act as a donkey.
Everyone can join the carnival by buying a mask they like – they are sold at every corner. Prices are different, on average 5-20 EUR, while the quality is not always proportional to the price, so it’s better to get around a few traders and choose your own. At home, it will be a wonderful reminder of an experienced adventure. Masks are made mainly of papier-mâché, painted with bright colors, decorated with sparkles, feathers, sometimes precious stones. During the carnival, contests for the most beautiful mask and costume are always held. Contestants take to the big stage set in Piazza San Marco twice a day. The final and rewarding of the winners take place on the last day of the carnival. A separate children’s competition is held. To participate, you need to apply for. Carnival website (in English).
Every evening there are costumed dinners with dances and theatrical performances. The price of admission for an official event at the Vendramin Calergi Palazzo is 500 EUR. Prices on the page are for October 2018.
By the end of the two-week holiday in the city there is already not a single person without a mask. A banner depicting the symbol of the city, the golden lion, is lowered from the bell tower of St. Mark. The carnival ends with a bright parade of costumes and the final of the competition, ubiquitous dances, calming down only with the ringing of bells, marking the beginning of Lent.
Tickets to Venice for carnival days are best bought in a few months: demand for them grows as the holiday approaches, as do prices. This also applies to hotels – in the city center it is not easy to find accommodation for these dates.
The epicenter of the holiday is on Piazza San Marco and the surrounding streets, but a lot of interesting things happen in the Arsenal of Venice, in the old building of the Fish Market near the Rialto Bridge, in Cannaregio. In Mestre, they arrange their own version of a carnival with street shows, ice skating. From February 8 to 13, the carnival will take place on the island of Burano, its program is at the office. website (in English). So it is not necessary to live in the very center, it is enough to settle close to any of these places.