One of the greatest parties in the world, certainly the most flamboyant in terms of color, cost and style, the Venice Carnival has not had the unbroken history most tourists believe.
The word “carnevale” derives from the Latin for “farewell to meat” and refers to the Christian tradition of giving up meat-eating in Lent (the time before Easter). Naturally, it’s a great opportunity to overindulge in the days preceding Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day, Martidi Grasso or Mardi Gras, whatever you want to call it, with plenty of merrymaking before the ‘suffering’ begins…. It’s a tradition celebration time in many parts of the world but, with the extravagant masks and costumes, Venice does it a little differently, with a great deal of style from the comic to the sinister, the bizarre to the beautiful.
The wearing of masks for street parties in Italy long precedes Christian times. The Romans celebrated in the same vein, with even slaves being allowed to wear masks. A little like school uniforms, the mask was a social leveller offering little distinction between social classes (except the evident cost of the outfit! Sorry I’m a cynic).
The tradition of masks in Venice can be traced back to the 1200’s but the heyday of the Carnival was in the 1700’s when, decadence really set in. This was possibly as a result of Venice´s loss of mercantile power and influence due to the rise of Dutch and British trade monopoly. What better way to forget your problems than in an orgy of vice, fornication, drunkenness, dancing, music, gluttony, gambling and general irresponsibility. Sounds good to me…..
After the dastardly French, under Napoleon Bonaparte, conquered Venice in 1797, the glory days of the Venetian Republic virtually ended, cash flow declined as did the carnival.
Astonishingly fascist dictators and puritans have something in common, they’re all killjoys! The final death note of the carnival was in the 1930s when Mussolini banned it totally.
Whatever the history, the Carnival is one of the events that no tourist should miss, it´s spectacular. However beware…. trying to find accommodation in Venice during Carnival is more than a nightmare, it´s impossible. If you want to visit and I do urge you to go, use an experienced specialist tour operator such as Allegro Holidays (part of the award-winning Blue Danube Holidays Group), they will even help you rent costumes. For dates and prices, have a look at: http://www.allegroholidays.com/Carnival_in_Venice-Package-Independent.htm