If there is one fun festival you have to see in your lifetime, Carnevale di Venezia (Carnival of Venice) should be the one. It is the only carnival in the world that is celebrated to allow people masquerade themselves into their secret fantasies and illusions. This is the reason for the masks and the costumes.
Now celebrated every February, the carnival is the one time when the whole city becomes as colorful and spectacular as the masked and costumed citizens are. In the past, it used to be a long festival running from December 26 all the way to Ash Wednesday.
Today, it still is a wild, enjoyable and fun festival that lasts for ten days where people put on masks and colorful costumes to become the people of their own fantasies. With their real selves hidden under costumes and masks, they would go out into the streets and participate in the festivities.
Many shows are mounted in the squares and mostly in Piazza San Marco, especially on Jeudi (Thursday) and Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), the most important days of the carnival. In other parts of the city, there are also several street performances, parades and other attractions.
The origin of the carnival is said to have begun in celebration for the victory of Venice against Ulrich, the Patriarca of Aquileia in 1162 A.D. It reached the height of its magnificence around 1700 when it began to attract visitors from all over Europe. There grew a mini-industry to manufacture more masks and costumes (mostly of the heavy velvets for cloaks and capes) for use by more people participating in the occasion.
It was the time when kings and princes and other European royalty would take part in the Carnival in order to have a good time on the city’s squares and streets.
Today, it is still celebrated by the whole city, this time with tourists watching and joining in the open-air celebrations, including public shows and private parties organized and held in the Venetian palaces.
The symbol of Carnival is definitely the masks. These are created by skilled craftsmen whose art were inherited from past masters. These handcrafted masks are quite expensive but are available all over Venice.
The most famous and fashionable mask (and costume) is the unisex “Bauta”. The whole get-up consist of a black tricorn hat, a black cloak and the white papier-mâché mask. The mask leaves the mouth area uncovered for eating and drinking.
The “Moretta” is a black oval mask with holes only for the eyes. There is also a mask of a cat called “Gnaga.” The mask of the “plague doctor” is one with a long nose or beak.
The wearing of masks during the festival had been dated back to the 12th century although it was only in 1608 when it was officially deemed proper. Since then, mask-making is handled by the masters with only a handful considered the best.
The importance of the carnival in Venice is seen all year round with the display of fancy dresses in stores. Also, if you visit the city anytime of the year, the mask-making shops are all hard at work making this beautiful symbol of the festival. It is if all the days of the year are solely in preparation for the carnival.