The Carnival of Venice is one of the best known and most appreciated events in the world. Every year, during this period, the city comes alive with masks, confetti, frittelle and galani (Carnival sweets), parties and events. This celebration has always attracted citizens and tourists to the historic center and is tinged with even more mystery and fun thanks to the traditions of the Venetian capital and its characteristics: a unique city built on the water, a labyrinth of narrow streets which open in “campi” and small squares that act as a stage for various activities.
But do you know what is the origin of the Venice Carnival and what are the events not to be missed? Here below we are giving you a taste of it.
The origins of the Venice Carnival
The Venice Carnival has very ancient origins. There is a first written trace of it in an edict of Doge Vitale Falier of 1094 about entertainment and celebrations in the days preceding Lent, but it was officially named public holiday in 1296 by the Senate of the Serenissima Republic.
The Carnival probably has a much older tradition and served as a way to give the population free play, a period in which social classes leveled off and irony on authority and aristocracy was allowed. By wearing a mask, people could transform themselves into what they wanted, thus canceling their belonging to a specific social class, religion, sex etc.
In the 18th century the Carnival of Venice reached its maximum splendor, acquiring fame throughout Europe; the love adventures of one of the most famous characters in the world, Giacomo Casanova, date back exactly to this period.
The Carnival originally began on December 26th, although some celebrations started in October, and lasted until the day before Lent. Today, however, events and shows are concentrated in the ten days preceding the Ash Wednesday.
The main events of the Venice Carnival
Each year the Venice Carnival focuses on a specific theme that becomes a common thread of all the events of the period and involves not only the historic center, but also the entire province.
Here we present the events not to be missed, our suggestion is that you check the updated calendar on the official website
Festa veneziana dell’acqua (Venetian Feast on the water)
The latest editions of the Venice Carnival officially opened with a real show on the water, in Rio di Cannaregio. Boats, dances, water games and much more made this event truly scenic and engaging. The access can be limited: the show is therefore offered at various times and days to allow more people to participate.
Volo dell’Angelo (Flight of the Angel)
The celebrations in Saint Mark’s Square, the symbolic place of the Venice Carnival, open with the flight of the Angel: a costumed character descends "flying" from the top of the bell tower of Saint Mark’s to a stage where the Doge and the other masks in traditional costumes wait for her. According to the tradition, the person who acts the part of the angel is the winning Mary of the previous edition of the Carnival.
Volo dell’Aquila (Flight of the Eagle)
The flight of the eagle is the second descent from the top of the bell tower to Saint Mark's square, scheduled for the week following the Flight of the Angel. In this case, a prominent figure in current affairs, sports, entrepreneurship, music or entertainment is involved.
La festa delle Marie (The feast of the Marys)
The beauty contest that takes place during the Venice Carnival is named “Festa delle Marie”. Every year, usually on the first Saturday of the Carnival, twelve Venetian girls (selected in the previous weeks) are presented to the city via a fancy dress procession that winds from the church of San Pietro di Castello through via Garibaldi and Riva degli Schiavoni, to Saint Mark’s Square. This event recalls the homage the Doge used to offer to twelve beautiful Venetian girls by giving them jewels for their wedding.
Giovedì grasso (Fat Thursday)
It takes place on the last Thursday before the end of the Carnival and it is on this day that many events and parades in Venice and its province are concentrated. In Saint Mark’s Square there is usually the “Ballata delle Maschere con il Taglio della Testa del Toro” (Ballad of the Masks with the Cutting of the Bull's Head). The history says that in 1162 the Doge Vitale Michiel II overcame the patriarch Ulrico of Aquileia accompanied by 12 rebel feudal lords. As a tribute and compensation for this victory, the successors of the Venetian bishop had to offer the Doge a bull, 12 loaves and 12 pigs each year, an evident allegory of what happened, and all this ended with the cutting of the bull's head.
Martedì grasso (Shrove Tuesday)
The day before the Ash Wednesday, the Venice Carnival officially closes. The last flight from the bell tower of Saint Mark’s, called the "svolo del Leon" in Venetian dialect (the flight of the lion), celebrates the symbol of the city. The twelve Marys are waiting for him on stage: on this occasion the winner of the beauty competition is also presented, to end with beauty from every point of view!