A very Venetian Carnival

March 13, 2011 at 20:00 | Posted in Venice | Leave a comment

I live some 100 km away from the wonderful city of Venice, Italy.

Venice is located in the Region of Veneto, and I live in the neighbouring Region called Friuli Venezia-Giulia. You can see both of them on the map above.

One of the most well-known Venetian celebrations is Carnival which, like most celebrations in Italy, dates back a long time.

The first documented Carnival celebrations in Venice date back to 1094, of which we have a written document regarding public “divertissements” (that is, leisurely activities outside of the work realm, approved by the local authorities) in the days immediately before Lent.
However, Carnival’s traditions are even more ancient and probably started with ancestral cults celebrating the end of Winter and the start of Spring. These cults were present in almost all societies, and their main goal was to let the lowest ranks of society to become, just for a limited period of time, alike the rich ones. Thus, poor people were allowed to disguise themselves with masks and make fun of the rich and powerful.

Carnival celebrations usually lasted for quite some time: they started on the first Sunday of October, intensified themselves the day after the Epiphany and reached their peak in the days before Lent. Today, Carnival celebrations last only for about 10 days before Lent.

As mentioned before, Carnival celebrations allowed Venetians to set aside work and worries, devoting themselves to fun and entertaining activities. Many were the available attractions: jugglers, acrobats, dancing animals, tumblers, musicians. Stallholders were selling dried fruits, roasted chestnuts and fritole (typical Venetian Carnival fritters) along with sweet treats of any kind, always pointing out the exotic origins of their products.

Historically, Venice had always been a huge commercial city thanks to its port, and had a priviledged relationship with foreign countries, particularly in the Far East.

In every Carnival celebration, the thin line connecting Venice to the Far East is always there, connectiong the famed Venetian festival to the legendary journey of the Venetian explorer Marco Polo to China and to the court of Kublai Khan, where he spent 25 years.

Several Carnivals have made history. In 1571, during the great battle of Christian forces at Lepanto, a chariot parade was organized: Faith was standing with her foot over a chained dragon, followed by Virtue, while Victory was standing over the defeated and over Death.

For a few days a year, the world no longer seemed to be turning in the same direction and wishes were granted. So was Venice during the 1700’s, century which turned Carnival and the city itself in a place of great illusions.

After the collapse of the Venetian Republic in 1797, Carnival celebrations came to a halt because of the largely skeptical views during Austrian and French rule. It was only in 1979 that the celebrations were resumed and brought back to their old glory.

Today, one of the most popular attractions during the Venetian Carnival are masks.
Masks were (and still are) hand-made by local artisans called mascherari (mask-makers). They have always had their own rules, regulations and guild, dating back to a 1436 statute.
Traditionally, they were part of the painters’ guild, who were assisting them by painting realistic facial features over stucco. Sometimes these faces had quite ridiculous proportions, but were always extremely detailed.

Masks were used not only during Carnival celebrations, but often throughout the year: masks were allowed on Boxing Day after Christmas, and up until midnight on Mardi Gras, when the partying came to an end. They were also allowed during all important occasions such as official banquets or parties.

Here are a few of the elaborate masks and costumes I was able to see during my day in Venice.

Hope you enjoy them!

In Him,


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