It’s Carnevale Time!
The term Carnevale derives from the Latin “carnem levare” meaning “remove the meat” because it was originally referring to the final banquet preceding Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten period of fasting where meat is not permitted.
Carnevale di Venezia
The tradition of Carnevale is typical of many countries in the world but the one in Venice is one of the oldest and is almost surreal, thanks to the incomparable and picturesque scenery. It is a remarkable program of events, including theatrical performances, fashion shows, masquerades and the wonderful display of the typical Venetian costumes. Around Carnevale and the creation of its masks, a true craftsmanship was born, which also has ancient roots – a statute in Venice that is dated April, 1436 recognized the “mascarere” – the craftsmen who made masks of various shapes and with different materials.
Rich or poor, illustrious or destitute, shipwrights, fishermen, Christians, Jews, men and women - everyone who hid under the disguise of a mask could pretend to be someone else and climb the stairs of the Palazzo Ducale to salute the most serene Doge. The Carnevale could not be interrupted and that meant it had to carry on at any cost, so much so that the death of the Doge Paolo Renier, which took place around February 13, 1789, was communicated only on March 2nd, at the end of all the festivities.
A mask was worn during Carnevale, but also during other special celebrations. That literally meant masks were worn throughout the year and as a result the government had to intervene several times by revising the law. Here are a few examples: in 1339 it was forbidden for everyone to wear masks at night and at the beginning of 1600 people were not allowed to be masked in convents and churches.
In the mid-1500s during a Carnevale in Saint Mark’s Square, a young acrobat walked from the bell tower of San Marco on a tightrope above the cheering crowd. He walked the rope all the way down to a boat anchored on the quay of the Piazzetta. During his descent, he reached the balcony of the Palazzo Ducale and handed gifts to the Doge. This event was a great success and he was named the Svolo del Turco.
It became a fixed annual event on Shrove Tuesday. As it evolved, a man would be hooked to the rope and would slide down the rope. The harness gave the impression of wings and the flying acrobat was dubbed Volo dell’Angelo. Unfortunately, in 1759, the harness broke and man plummeted into the crowd. The acrobat was replaced with a large wooden dove releasing flowers and confetti onto the crowd and was called Volo della Colombina. This tradition lasted until 2001, when the wooden dove was replaced again with an acrobat and the name was changed back to Volo dell’Angelo. This event takes place at noon on the first Sunday of the celebrations.
Carnevale stopped being celebrated after the fall of the Republic because it was frowned upon by the Austrians and the French, but the tradition was preserved in the islands of Murano and Burano. Only at the end of the 1970s, at the behest of some citizens and civic associations, did the city revive the Carnevale which was then officially re-opened in 1979.
The typical sweets of Carnevale are Frittelle and Galani, which can be purchased in every bakery and patisserie in town, but only during Carnevale time. Every shop has its own version of the cakes and sampling as many as possible is one of the objectives of many of the attendees.
Amazing parties are organized in beautiful Venetian palaces where everyone wears wonderful and sophisticated costumes which can be bought or rented from some of the ateliers of the city. Many events take place throughout the city, but the main ones are located in Piazza San Marco, like the Volo dell’Angelo, the Tre Marie and many more.
If you arrive in Venice “unprepared,” don’t worry. Immediately below the stairs of the station (and practically everywhere in the city) there are artists who paint the faces of passers-by with colors and glitter at modest prices. You can buy masks of all types in a variety of shops with prices from $5 to hundreds of dollars. Despite the many visitors and the general chaos, Carnevale di Venezia is definitely an event not to be missed and everyone should experience it at least once in their lifetime!