Carnival is the feast of feasts! Costumes, masks, jokes, food and drink: nothing is missing in this ancient, unrivalled celebration.
The Venetian Carnival is undoubtedly the most important carnival in Europe and is one of the best known in the whole world. It's not by chance that one of the symbols of Venice, besides the gondola and the Rialto Bridge, is the Venetian Carnival mask, of which you will find thousands of versions in every gift shop in the city.
This event has very ancient origins: in fact it seems that its first celebration was in 1296 when the most important personalities of the Republic decided to celebrate the day before the "Quaresima".
During the Serenissima the Carnival was celebrated for six weeks; during that time Carnival reached the apex of its glory, becoming famous all around Europe and making Venice the centre of entertainment and pastimes.
During the Carnival, the appearance of different social classes was completely reversed; a poor person could become a noble and a noble could pretend to be a commoner.
Carnival means "reversing all standards and ordinary things", that is to say being free from social conventions for an amount of time.
The celebrations start with the so called "Volo dell'Angelo" (Angel's Fly) today known as "Volo della Colombina". In the past, it consisted of a series of acrobatic movements executed by a man who was tied up by a rope; he had to go along the rope from St. Mark's Basilica to the Doge's Palace. Then he dedicated flowers and poems to the Doge. Without a doubt a spectacular performance!
The last day of the Carnival is called Martedì Grasso, and it's a tradition, which still occurs today, to burn the symbol of the Carnival in St. Mark's Square. In this way, it is believed that evils are kept away from the lagoon.
A little-known fact is that at the same time, a "controcarnival" was carried out by Church, which organised processions in order to absolve the sins of the Carnival.
Today Carnival is a very fascinating event for tourists. On one hand you can experience a magical atmosphere and see the traditional customs of the past which have remained intact, on the other hand you can have fun with the different forms of entertainment on offer, spread all around Venice.
The Carnival in Venice is also renowned thanks to the famous and historic masks created for this period. Every year, in February, many visitors come here to admire and immortalize the unique scene of seeing coloured and charming masks all around the city.
If you wish to know more about the famous masks of Venice, visit our dedicated page.