Three million people a year flock to Venice with masks in tow to celebrate the Carnevale de Venezia, or the Venetian Winter Carnival. Beginning February 16th and ending March 5th, just before the start of the Lent, the celebration lasts for two elaborately costumed and magical weeks filled with masquerade balls, candle-lit parade boats, street performances and free concerts. Here are a few of the highlighted events that are must-see:
Masks have been part of Venetian history since 1263 and were so abused by gamblers and persons of ill repute seeking anonymity that in the eighteenth century they were forbidden outside the Carnival holiday. The celebration itself dates back to 1162, when the local population celebrated a victory over the Patriarch of Aquileia. The festival has waxed and waned throughout history, gaining a resurgence in 1979 thanks to a crew of local artisans determined to bring back the traditions of carnival and the historical tradition of masking.
Ready to be a part of history and parade with your own mask in St. Mark’s Square? Willing competitors can partake in tradition and parade on stage donning elaborate masquerade and costumes. Starting on February 23 from 3:30-5:00 pm, winners of the daily parades will proceed to the finals on Sunday March 3rd to compete for the grand prize. Not just for adults, on March 4th two parades will be dedicated exclusively to bambinos.
The Festa delle Marie or Feast of Marys, involves traditionally costumed Venetians and re-enacts the homage paid by the Venetian Doge to twelve beautiful maidens as bridal dowry. The parade begins at San Pietro di Castello at 2:30 pm until it reaches the San Marco stage at 4:00 pm where the twelve Marys will be presented to the public and the winner will have the honor of starring in the following year’s Flight of the Angel.
The Flight of the Angel on February 24 is a major highlight celebrating the tradition involving a beautifully costumed maiden of Venice who “flies” over the square along a cable running from the San Marco bell tower to the middle of the square while onlookers cheer from below. After paying homage to and hugging the Doge, the festivities begin.
Tickets for the official Carnival Ball hosted by the Ca Vendramin Calergi Palace on February 23 are difficult to come by but worth the effort. The event, overlooking the Grand Canal, is an exclusive celebration combining experiences for all the senses including table-side performances where “body expresses and art is the tool.” Ball-goers will be transported back in history as they dance the night away in historical Renaissance decor.
To join in the fun find the perfect mask, try Ca’ Macana (Dorsoduro, located just off Camp San Barnaba), and don a billowing cape known as a taberro. Participants will define their own carnival experience while wandering and getting lost in the streets of Venice. For a full schedule of events click here.
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