The carnival in Italy is celebrated during the winter in February, for one or two weeks (depending on where you are) in the last days leading up to Ash Wednesday and the 40 days of Lent that come before Easter. Venice is the most famous city for carnival celebrations in Italy, and the Venice carnival photos are well-known for its elaborate masks and costumes.
The modern history of the carnival in Italy dates back to medieval Europe, with the celebration’s earliest roots in the pagan culture of ancient Rome, and its festivals of Lupercalia and Saturnalia. During the middle ages, the atmosphere of Italian carnival celebrations had an air of intrigue and mystery. Mischievous jokes and pranks being played on fellow carnival-goers was part of the fun of the festival. Another tradition from the past was the wearing of elaborate masks to disguise one’s identity placing everyone on the same social level and adding to the intrigue.
The modern carnival in Italy still maintains the tradition of carnival masks that are sold year round in anticipation of the winter carnevale. Venetian carnival masks are the most widely recognized, with three types commonly seen: the fantasy mask, commedia dell’arte mask, and the traditional bauta mask.
The fantasy mask is the most creative and can be of anything or anyone you choose. The commedia dell’arte masks are recognizable by their Pierrot or Harlequin faces depicted in Italian comedies. The bauta is visually striking and resembles the headpiece worn by a court jester. The mask itself is stark white contrasted by a three-tipped solid black hat.
A popular location for the celebrations is the Venice Carnival that experienced a resurgence of interest in the festival in the 1970s. A popular festival attracting thousands of visitors each year, the Venice Carnival was rated in 2007 by the London Times as one of the top six carnivals in Europe. Revelers begin the celebrations in St Mark’s Square, wearing gorgeous costumes, cloaks, tri-cornered hats, and decorative masks, and throughout the festival days they roam throughout the city streets, over bridges, and along the canals enjoying the entertainment provided musicians, acrobats, dancers, costumed characters, and street performers.
Celebrations fill the streets and canals with music and singing, public, and private parties, parades, food stalls, costume galas, and masquerade balls. Although the Piazza di San Marco is the primary festival area, all parts of the city are fair game and typically filled with visitors, residents, and performers who come attired themselves in costumes and masks or simply to see others’ costumes.
Several of the highlights visitors enjoy at the Venice Carnival are the parades of colorful boats and decorative gondolas making their way along the Grand Canal or the parade in St. Mark’s Square featuring elaborate festival masks. A spectacular fireworks show on the last day of the festival marks the end of the celebration.
Carnevale is a winter festival with the probability of cold temperatures and rain. The scheduled festival dates for the Carnival can vary from year to year to coincide with Shrove Tuesday. In addition to Venice, popular places to celebrate include Umbria and Terni. Throughout Umbria, for instance, it’s possible to find parades with allegory costumes, traditional sweets, and exhibitions of folk culture.
In Viareggio, on the coast of Tuscany, there is a parade known for its beautifully elaborate and allegorical papier-mache floats. The parade is held the three Sundays before and the Sunday following Shrove Tuesday, as well as on the Tuesday itself. There are festivals and cultural events in the area as well.