Carnival of Venice is a Celebration of Art and Culture

Find out why this annual event is a must for visitors of all ages.

When thinking of Venice, Italy, images of romantic gondola rides, walking among the pigeons in Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) in the shadow of the magnificent Basilica dedicated to the saint or standing on the Rialto Bridge watching the vaporetti (water buses) shuttling locals and visitors alike along the stunning Grand Canal beneath you often come to mind.

The city, which is located on the north end of the Adriatic Sea and built over 118 islands, boasts some of the most impressive collections of art and architecture in all of Italy. It’s for that reason (and more) that Venice is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy—and the world! In fact, the city welcomes up to 90,000 tourists per day.

Photo Credit: Gino Cianci

With so many things to do and see in this magical city, it’s no surprise that Venice was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1987. Perhaps the most famous and recognizable spot in all of Venice is St. Mark’s Square. Here, visitors can admire several landmarks including The Basilica San Marco, Doge’s Palace and the Campanile di San Marco (the bell tower of St. Mark).

Despite being a bit pricey, a visit to Venice would not be complete without a gondola ride along the maze of canals in the city. For those who will be staying in the city for several days, consider a trip to the island of Murano, where visitors can enjoy glassblowing demonstrations and purchase a few souvenirs of the famous colored glass. Additionally, Murano glass items can also be purchased in many stores in Venice if a trip to Murano is not an option.

Photo Credit: Vito Arcomano

Given its picturesque beauty, Venice is known to many as one of the most romantic cities in all of the world, ideal for visiting with a spouse or loved one. However, each year, those lucky enough to book a trip during the city’s Carnival (or Carnevale) celebration, are sure to fall in love with this captivating city.

The Carnival of Venice 2017 began on February 11th and is set to end on February 28th. Note that the dates change each year depending on the date of Easter. The Carnival of Venice is an annual celebration that culminates with the beginning of Lent (commencing approximately six weeks prior to Easter) and is similar to Mardi Gras in many fun and entertaining respects.

Like Fat Tuesday, Carnival ends the day before Ash Wednesday and ushers in a time of fasting, atonement, and reflection for Christians throughout the world.

Photo Credit: Vito Arcomano

Perhaps the most infamous symbols of Carnival are the elaborate masks which allow everyone to party incognito. “Carnival is similar to Halloween in the U.S. in that people dress up, often in masks,” says Gina Vinaccia, public relations manager in Chicago for The Italian National Tourist Board North America.

“Masks, historically, were worn in order to create an atmosphere of equality because you could not see the person behind the mask, so there was no way of telling where one stood in terms of social status. So, nobility partied with the ‘common’ folk without judgment.”

There are several different types of masks one might encounter at Carnival. The Bauta fits over the entire face and often features an over-prominent nose, a projecting chin (to allow the wearer to speak, eat, and drink without having to remove it) and no mouth.

The Colombina is a half-mask. It only covers the eyes, nose, and upper cheeks and is usually decorated with gold, silver, crystals, and feathers. Today, this type of mask is worn by men and women and it is often held up to the face by a baton.

Photo Credit: Vito Arcomano

The Medico Della Peste (The Plague Doctor) is recognizable thanks to its long beak. Although it was originally used to prevent the spread of disease, this mask is now sometimes worn during Carnival and is often decorated.

Pantalone, which resembles a sad old man, is a half mask that features an oversized nose like the beak of a crow and high brows.

The Volta is an iconic modern Venetian mask. It is often white and highly decorated. It covers the entire face including the chin and extends to the top of the forehead. Unlike the Bauta, it cannot be worn while eating and drinking. The roots of Venice’s Carnival can be traced back to the ancient traditions and festivals of Saturnalia in ancient Rome and Dionysia in ancient Athens.

These religious festivals typically involved revelers partaking in parties where they would don masks, dance, enjoy music and culture, eat, drink, and be merry. Having its origins in a combination of these fanciful festive happenings adding its own Venetian flavor, Carnival mixes together culture and humanity in displays, processions, performances, and plays common during Dionysia.

Carnival offers visitors of all ages a wide range of events and activities to enjoy. From performances by jugglers, acrobats, musicians and dancers to exhibitions and competitions, there’s no shortage of fun at this celebration. According to Vinaccia, some must-see events include:

  • The Vanity AF-Fair, which takes place in St. Mark’s Square and features the work of artisans.
  • The Gallery of Wonders, which is the official dinner show and ball of the Carnival celebration.
  • The Best Masked Costume Contest; the Mestre Carnival Street Show, featuring entertainment for all ages including a funny clown show, a puppet show, a marching band performance, and a number of musical groups.
  • The Flight of the Angel, which is a traditional event that dates back to the Serenissima period where an unknown guest of Venice flies along a rope from San Marco bell tower to the middle of the square and offers an homage to the Doge.

While a visit to Venice any time of the year is guaranteed to leave an everlasting impression, those fortunate enough to visit during Carnival are in for a celebration and spectacle that is truly unique.

“Venice attracts tourists from all over the world year-round, but especially during Carnival,” says Vinaccia. “All of Venice transforms into a cocktail of parties and fun. There is great food, entertainment, and fantastic music. Who doesn’t like a party?