Carnevale di Venezia, Part 1 of . . .
Like I mentioned last time, I’ve long wanted to visit Venice during Carnevale ever since my first trip to Venice many years ago, and through a bit of synchronicity and last minute timing, it was a dream come true. I arrived in Venice a few days after the start of Carnevale this year, which ran from January 26 to February 12.
Just a bit of historical background. Carnevale is celebrated in the days leading up to Lent, and is believed to have originated as a celebration of the victory of Doge Vitale Michieli (duke, or ruler of the republic of Venice/”Repubblica della Serenissima”) over Ulrico, Patriarch of Aquileia. Here’s an interesting piece of trivia that maybe some of you know already. The word carnevale is derived from the Latin ”carnem levare” or “carnelevarium”, which means to take away meat. Makes sense — party before the 40 days of Lent. (I know it’s spelled “carnival”, but I’m doing it the Italian way here). There are probably many explanations for the use of masks, but the common one is that they were meant to hide social status within the Venetian hierarchy, and to aid in high jinks and indiscretions I’m sure. The first documented use of masks for the event was in 1268.
Carnevale was mostly in decline by the 1800s, and was banned by Mussolini in the 1930s. In 1979, a group of Venetian artists revived the tradition. And so the long forgotten art of mask making came to life again in Venice, mostly in the form of handmade and hand painted papier mache, though you could find ceramic, as well as less costly versions everywhere you turn. Whether revival of the Carnevale tradition was a way to boost winter tourism or not, it worked (though not like Venice ever needed to beg for tourists). Today, the population of Venice increases manyfold during Carnevale. Carnevale events range from official parades and historical processions, to small chamber concerts celebrating Vivaldi, to theater performances, to exclusive masked balls with admission price of more than 500 euros per person. But mostly, a celebratory atmosphere just permeates the air.
The masks worn by the men in the two photos below are the traditional bauta masks (also worn by women though that’s a rarer sight); these are fairly simple and designed so that the wearer can eat and drink without having to remove it.
Even though Carnevale had started several days before I arrived, the two couples above were the only people I saw in costumes during my first few days. While obviously there was plenty to see and explore, I was beginning to think that you’d have to be really lucky to come across people in costumes. Not so (though torrential rain one day probably didn’t help) — things really picked up pace after the official parades. So if you happen to find this post through Googling as you’re making travel plans, here’s a tip: if you want to see costumed characters and only have a few days, come no sooner than mid way through Carnevale.
The official parade. . . . I wish I could give a better explanation other than it’s a parade.
The Festa delle Marie procession is another marker of the beginning of Carnevale. This is based on the tradition where the Doge and patrician families would contribute to the dowries of twelve poor village maidens, and hold a feast in their honor. Now this next part sounds a bit fanciful, but I rather like it. In 943, pirates broke into the church, stole the dowries and kidnapped the brides. The Duke himself and many Venetians followed the pirates and defeated them at sea. To mark this victory, the Festa delle Marie was instituted. Most of the information can be found here. Today there are no brides or dowries involved in the Feast of Mary, but twelve local girls are chosen by judges to be “Marie’s” and be part of the procession, which begins the waterfront basilica in San Pietro di Castello, to San Marco Plaza.
And best of all for the girls, they are carried by gondoliers for at least part of the parade route.
And following the procession, Carnevale truly kicks off with Volo della Colombina (flight of the dove, or of the angel), where a woman is chosen to zipline glide from the bell tower of St Mark to a stage below. I was in no position to take a decent photo, but for show and tell purpose, it looks something like this — about 10 stories below looking up. See a 1 min video of this year’s flight here.
Let the festivities begin!
I hope you enjoyed these, because there are lots more coming. See you soon.
Filed under: Parades, Travel, Venice | 8 Comments
Tags: photography, travel, Venice carnevale