Carnival in Venice
Carnival is the most popular festival in Venice, its origins in the city date back to the 13th century when the Doge made it a public holiday. Originally Carnival in Venice started on the 26th of December and lasted for several weeks until the beginning of Christian Lent. Carnival was an occasion of social release. People were gathering together celebrating by eating the most tasty food and dancing all day long.
How Carnival developed?
Throughout the centuries Venetian Carnival has become famous all over Europe. People from other countries arrived in Venice to enjoy the celebrations. That way, Carnival quickly turned into a luxurious festival with elaborated costumes and masks. In that period there were parties all over the city inside the beautiful palaces on the Gran Canal.
To attend those parties masks were mandatory! This way you didn’t know who the person in front of you was! You could party with a sailor, a nobleman, an actress, a commoner and you didn’t care! The idea was that of hiding your identity and your social standing in order not to judge or to be judged by anyone. You can guess that anything could happen in those occasions…and when we say anything, we really mean anything!
This general freedom also had some negative outbound. Crime began to raise. With the mask on criminals were unpunished, they couldn’t recognize them! That’s why the Republic of Venice started imposing some rules to control Carnival. They forbade to wear a mask in the streets after dark. They also abolished them inside churches, monasteries and convents. We can say that even friars and nuns enjoyed celebrating Carnival!
Carnival and masks
On the bright side that of producing masks became an actual art. Venetian mask makers used their talent and creativity. They made masks with papier mache and decorated them with pearls, feathers and glitters. They could be colorful, extravagant and lavish, never sober! This is a tradition that has survived up to current days. The mask is still the most typical souvenir in Venice. If you get lost in the little alleys you can find laboratory shops and even craft your own mask.
The most famous traditional Venetian masks
BAUTA: it is the quintessential mask of Venetian tradition. It was particularly popular inside casinos (houses for gambling and brothels). As a matter of fact, its beak like shape allowed people to eat and drink without taking it off. It was also a way to disguise your voice.
MORETTA: it was a small black velvet mask. It had French origins and it was exclusively for women. Guess why? In order to wear it, they must held it in their mouth. In this way it was impossible for those women to talk! This silence was a weapon of seduction as it added a huge amount of mystery to the game.
PLAGUE DOCTOR: originally doctors used this mask during plague epidemics. It has got a long beak where they put dried herbs and flowers to avoid breathing the bad smell of their patients! The length of the beak also allowed them to maintain some distance from the corpses.
After many centuries of fun and great celebrations Carnival in Venice ended with the Napoleonic invasion that started in 1797. The darkest pages of Venetian history corresponded to the end of this magnificent Festival. Venetians would have to wait until contemporary times to bring the spirit of Carnival back to life.
As a matter of fact, it was only in the 70’s that a group of students and local associations started organizing the first parades with music, costumes and masks. Today the main celebrations are held in Saint Mark’s Square. They still organize splendid balls inside the palaces on the Grand Canal. Tickets can be very expensive but we believe it is one of those lifetime experiences you must live at least once.
Unfortunately the covid-19 pandemic has forced the cancellation of all public events. But don’t worry, Carnival 2021 will be an online event. For more info, check this link out!
Fingers crossed for next year! We are looking forward to meet you soon in Venice to host you in one of our tours and have a nice spritz together…who knows, maybe right during Carnival time!