Carnevale di Venezia is the annual festival held in Venice Italy. It officially starts two weeks before Ash Wednesday and ends on Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday as it is called in New Orleans for Mardi Gras). It varies each year according to the day on which Easter Falls. (The calculation is officially, the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.)
The tradition of masks dates back to the time of the Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia (Venetian Empire) with the masks hiding the true identity of the citizens of the giving people of any social class anonymity during this festival. The one time of year where people were free to mingle peasant and royalty. Carnival in Venice is found in documents dating from 1092 when Vitale Falier was the Doge.
After a victory of the Serenissima over Ulric (Patriarch of Aquileia) in 1162, the condition of Ulric's release mandated that he pay an annual tribute to Venice of 12 loaves of breas, 12 pigs and 1 bull. Thus began the tradition of slaughtering the bull and 12 pigs in Piazza di San Marco on Shrove Thursday (Veneziano: Zioba Grasso) to commenorate the victory. Thus began this grand festival which even today is staged in San Marco Square.
The 17th and 18th Century saw the height of the Carnival with such infamous characters as Casanova. Putting on the mask of Carnival released the population from their daily lives and inhibitions for a moment. It reached a zenith of debauchery in the 18th Century when the Venetians wore the masks for as long as six months. They were often worn in the casino of Venice to protect the identity of the ladies and gentlemen.
Napoleon Arrives Napoleon captured Venice without a single cannon being fired on May 12, 1797 and as part of the spoils of war gave Venice to Austria, the carnival began it's demise. It was banned by Mussolini in the 1930s and only revived around 1979 as a method of promoting tourism in Venice.
Today it is known around the world and more than 30,000 people arrive each day to party and see the costumes with the largest crowds arriving for the final days. Special trains and tours make it a great tourist event, unlike most celebrations in Venice. As in the 17th and 18th century there are lavish banquets, balls and parties. They are held in the palaces and the hotels and cost as much as 400 Euro (a little more than $600 US) for a night's entertainment. However, you don't need a ticket to walk around the city in costume and enjoy the fun and the promoters of the festival from centuries would be pleased with the crowds that gather, the colorful, even risque, costumes and the partying. Walking become the only way to navigate the cities as the vaporetta traffic is clogged with slightly tipsy party-goers.
The popular styles of masks have become synomous with Venice.
Well Known Styles of Masks:
|Arlecchino||This mask goes along with a costume of diamond shaped patterns, painted in bright colors and the English word for this is Harlequin, typically a man's costume and mask.|
|Bauta||A mask which covers the whole face, without a mouth. Only citizens of Venice had the right to wear the Bauta and its use was regulated by the government. It was even required to be work at certain city meetings to assure equal rights to all citizens. This one is worn by men and women alike usually with a black cape and a three-cornered "tricone" hat.|
|Colombina||A half mask, highly decorated with gold, crystals silver and feathers. Originally throught to have been created for a vain actress who did not wish to have her beautiful face covered. This is the maid-servant counterpart of the Arlecchino|
|Commedia||Most everyone is familiar with this popular mask and its association with the theater. The two faces of the comedy, the happy and the sad.|
|Dottore (Doctor)||The Plague Doctor a little on the dark side, this mask is complete with a long beak which originates from France in the 16th Century where Doctor Lorme started wearing a mask as a preventitive measure when treating patients with the plague. Most often it is worn with a dark cape - though most don't remember it's dark association. Alternatively in Italian legend, the Dottore is a grumpy rich old busy-body who is out of touch with the world.|
|Puclinea||The name comes from the Italian "pulcino" or chick and is a crooked-nose hunchback, the model for Punch in the English puppet theatre.|