Venice Carnival

By Viator, December 2014

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In stark contrast to Carnival festivities in Rio, New Orleans and elsewhere, the Carnival of Venice, like the city that hosts it, is as much a period piece as it is a hedonistic celebration. Banned in the late 18th century and resurrected by the Italian government in the 1970s as part of their attempt to promote Venetian culture, Carnival  - called Carnevale in Italian - centers on the profusion of masks worn by the city’s residents and the tens of thousands of annual visitors who attend the annual festival. 

The dates for Carnival change every year, as they’re connected to the liturgical year rather than the calendar year. Carnival is the celebration that occurs just before Lent, and it culminates in Fat Tuesday - Martedi Grasso in Italian. You’ll need to check the specific dates for this year’s Carnevale, but it usually takes place in February or March.

Costumes, Street Theatre, & Feasting

While Carnival in Venice may have been more wild centuries ago, the modern version is much more stately. Still, it’s an invitation for participants to express themselves through elaborate costumes and masks, and it’s a festival known for its sensual overtones. Carnival is, in many ways, about excess.

Acting troupes and performers engage in various forms of “commedia dell'arte” - improvised performances of theatre, juggling, and comedy - and epic proportions of traditional Venetian food and wine are consumed.

Venetian Carnival Masks

Whenever you choose to join in the festivities, you’ll first have to choose a mask. Throughout the festival, revelers conceal their identities with various styles of masks. Some historians believe masks were originally used during Carnival to erase the lines between classes in a very class-driven society, allowing people from all walks of life to mingle in a way that was impossible at any other time of year. Today, the masks are simply a festive part of any good Carnival costume.

Bautas can be worn by anyone today, although they were originally only worn by men. They are usually gilded and have a pronounced chin line that does not conceal the mouth.

A Columbina mask is a half-mask, exposing the mouth and the lower part of the face. Morettas, oval masks made of velvet, are typically worn by women.

Voltos or Larvas - often simple, white, unadorned masks - are considered the standard Venetian Carnival masks. They cover the entire face, and the mouths are always closed and slightly pursed.

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