If you could travel back in time, where would you go? Maybe you’d dive into a distant and alluring tradition described in history books. Such as Venice Carnival, that this year takes place from the 11th to the 28th of February. These magnificent two weeks will be full of breathtaking experiences, including street entertainment, masquerade balls, mask contests, dinner shows and parades. A thorough blast from the past, and a lot more than just a fun touristic activity. Human weaknesses, historical fashion costumes, magical storytelling performances and artistic ambient will be unfolding among the romantic water streets full of colours and music.
Where did it all begin?
Venice Carnival officially begun in 1162, when the citizens celebrated the victory over the Patriarch of Aquileia. The event has a strong religious background, as it ends with the Catholic celebration of Lent, a solemn religious observance that ends on Easter. Hence, some of the theories suggest that the word “carnevale” comes from combining the Latin “carne” and “vale”, meaning “farewell to meat” as in the abstinence during Lent.
Masks and Grand Tours
The masks are the most famous decorative elements, and a symbol of the city. Their origin lies in the far 1700s. At the time people would come to Venice in order to buy contemporary art and see the spectacular roads made of water, which made it a tourist location as well as an important and rich port city. In fact, after an economic fall in the 1500s, Venice recovered solely due to tourism. The Grand Tours were very popular, routes taken by young men after finishing university and before settling down. The nightlife was Venice’s main hidden and unspoken gem, especially since the government had relaxed the laws on gambling and prostitution created for the foreigners. Rich and respected people from all over Europe would loose their identity for one night with the help of a mask and indulge in gambling.
The ridotto was the official name for the secret apartments used as gambling houses and brothels that blurred the line between upper class women and prostitutes. Everyone was ‘in incognito’. A mystery. A game. Only after a closer look one could distinguish the expensive lace or the fur trim of the upper class guests. Although the carnevale was banned several times in history – like with the Austrian conquest of Venice in 1798, or in the 1930s under the rule of Mussolini – it was brought back in the 1970s with incredible success. Nowadays the event attracts about 3 million tourists each year and supports the national economy with the masks production.
Types of masks & where to buy them
The Venetians were allowed to wear masks for six months a year; however, masks were also the attribute of the Commedia dell’Arte performers, who entertained people with slapstick comedies. Masks are various, and one of the most popular is the Colombina, worn with a tricorn hat and a face cover, as illustrated in the paintings of Venetian rococo artist Rosalba Carriera. Interestingly, this mask has its origins in the very Commedia dell’Arte. Another curious type that actually has disappeared in history is called Moretta, used by prostitutes. The mask was held in place by biting on a button, making the wearer unable to talk.
Furthermore, there are joker-like Arlecchino masks, the Medico della Peste, with its large beak attached (a smaller version of it is called the Zanni and it only covers the eyes) and the mysterious Volto, that covers the entire face. Lastly there is the squared-jaw Bauta, that reminds of a male medieval armour and is referred to as a Casanova’s mask.
The best places to purchase these handcrafted works of art include Ca’ Macana (Dorsoduro 3172; +39 0412776142), La Bottega dei Mascareri (S. POLO 80; +39 041 277 6142) and Cà Del Sol (Castello 4964; +39 041 528 5549).
Main events of Venice Carnival 2017
Venice Carnival 2017 features a wide range of events, some of which are free to the public and some that require a ticked that should be bought in advance. The carnevale starts off with the Festa veneziana on the water at Rio di Cannaregio on February 11th at 6pm. Then the city will be invaded by colourful light shows, musical accompaniment and entertainment. Moreover, there will be several Best Mask Contests in Piazza San Marco and the Carnival Street Shows in Piazza Ferretto. One of the most thrilling events is the Ballo del Doge, a gala dinner at Palazzo Pisani Moretta, with dances and exclusive performances. This year the ball will be held on February 25th, with Cupid in Wonderland as the main theme.
Other alluring balls include the Saint Valentine’s Carnival Ball in Palazzo Contarini della Porta di Ferro, on February 14th (prices starting at €113), and the Carnival In Love Grand Ball in Palazzo Benzon, on February 24th (prices starting at €134). For any further information, dates, location and tickets, check out the official websites: http://www.carnevale.venezia.it/en/events-list/; http://venice-carnival-italy.com/events/