The Carnival of Venice between tradition and modernity
The celebration of the Carnival of Venice the day preceding Lent as a festivity dates back to 1928, as established by a decree of the Senate of the Venetian Republic, led by Doge Falier at the time. However, already in the year one thousand people used to “loudly” celebrate the period between the end of winter and beginning of spring.
Since that day the Senate itself returned several times to the subject in order to limit the unbridled excesses of people during the Carnival of Venice. For example, there was a law which punished masked men who threw eggs filled with rose water to ladies during their walks (an Italian saying goes: at Carnival anything goes!) and the use of masks was always forbidden to prostitutes and the men who attended them. Of course, neither gamblers could use masks, as their creditors couldn’t recognize them.
Around the 15th century the organization of the Carnival of Venice was entrusted to the so-called “Compagnie della Calza,” associations of young people from different districts of Venice, all distinguished by the different colors of their socks (italian: calze.)
In the 18th century, in some locations people even started celebrations in September to continue until March, so that Carnival was a real lifestyle rather than a seasonal event. Carlo Goldoni has largely written about this working-class environment and noble at the same time, made up of villas and inns, canals and calli, playing his part in making the image of Venice that of the city of Carnival, art, and why not, fun and excess.
Indeed, thanks to its fame, in the 18th century the Carnival of Venice became an international event. Visitors came from all over Europe to participate in the noble and bourgeois parties, to watch the shows and crowd theaters and squares in a climate of general tolerance that would literally horrify us nowadays. Working-class people mingled with lords and nobles for days and days, all hidden behind masks and costumes, and everything was allowed, parties, entertainment, performances, shows, jugglers, acrobats, and dancing were everywhere. And of course, loads of food and wine. After all, the city was not much different from how it looks like today, even in its tourist as well as leisure ambiance.
With the Austrian domination, the Carnival lost, however, a bit of its charm and transgressive spirit. The new rulers didn’t like to lose control of the situation, so the Carnival became something reserved for a few, and very intimate: masks could be worn only in private and authorized places.
The Carnival of Venice eventually relives in the late 1900s, when it goes back to being an event of national and European relevance, with important musical and theatrical events, but especially with festivals and parties enlivened by the refined traditional masks and also new, imaginative costumes.
According to the religious calendar, nowadays the Carnival lasts from Shrove Thursday to Shrove Tuesday, except for the diocese of Milan which was authorized by St. Ambrose to continue until Saturday. This year, however, the civil calendar of Venice states that the Carnival of Venice will symbolically starts on February 14th, Valentine’s Day, and end Tuesday, March 4th after three weeks of revelry full of masks and laughter, music, plays and movies, without forgetting history, painting and literature, of course. In short, culture and entertainment for everyone, including children.
This year’s theme is “fairy tales”, characterized by magical and mythological creatures, nature in its fantastic and allegorical facets, but especially the features of man-environment relationships. Inspiration will be drawn from the great wealth of national and international fairy-tale and mythological heritage, with the aim of creating a living dictionary of imagination, a huge map of the fruits of people’s creative thought, free from constraints and intended to explore nature and discover its mysteries.
Celebrations will involve many, well-distributed locations, including among others: the State Archive at Fondazione Querini Stampalia, the Museum of Natural History, the gardens of the Biennale, Fondamenta Nuove Theatre, Casa dei Tre Oci, and many others. However, the real party will be along the streets of the city and of course in St. Mark’s Square. Here is the main stage of the Carnival with all the best of Venice’s traditional Carnival masks. Every day, the most beautiful and original mask will be voted on and awarded on this stage.
Not only fun is ensured by the lively spirit of participants, often even alcoholic, as even a rich events programme awaits visitors for their pleasure. These events are all strictly low cost, because they’re organized by the city’s Municipality, museums and business owners. Not-to-be-missed events are Venice’s Festival on the water and the water parade, scheduled for Saturday, February 15th and Sunday 16th, as well as the Flight of the Angel on Sunday, February 23rd.
In the days of the Carnival of Venice, as you can well imagine, staying at a hotel in the heart of the city rather than its islands is surely not cheap! But it takes only a little sagacity to experience the magic of Venice’s Carnival without spending a fortune! Here are some tips: you can opt for a hotel in Mestre or more to the west in Dolo and Mira along the banks of the Brenta river, well connected with Venice Santa Lucia train station, or even to the east, in Lido di Jesolo, near Punta Sabbioni, where ferries depart towards Venice Lido.
The Carnival of Venice, with its riot of colors, events, masks, dancing and entertainment, will certainly not disappoint you.