The Annual Winter Festival in Venice: The Carnival

In the 1970s, the Italian government decided to help improve the climate for tourism in the Italian city of Venice. The plan to do this was to promote the rebirth of Carnival in Venice. In 1980, the first full scale modern Carnival (Carnevale in Venice) was held.

The tradition of Carnevale had last been held 183 years ago and was ended when the power of Venice waned after an invasion by France. For the previous 635 years, Carnevale had celebrated the power and opulence of Venice and its storied society. Carnevale originally started as a celebration on the narrow Campo Santo Stefano in thanks for an important military victory.

Over the years, it became more and more opulent and popular and the event moved to the famous Piazza San Marco. Eventually high society from all over Europe came to Venice each year to join in the fun. In those days, Carnevale ran for weeks, and eventually as long as a month of continual partying.

A law stipulated that every citizen could come to Carnevale with a mask. The idea was for everyone to feel welcome and eliminate class distinction during Carnevale. In today’s modern Carnevale elaborate masks and costumes are still de rigueur with awards given annually for the very best. The current Italian slang for appearing at Carnevale in masked costume is “fare le vashe” which means to swim in the pool.

In the early days, while the party continued in public, the high society of Venice, and eventually of Europe held lavish private balls to which a gilded invitation was necessary. The gilding of invitations was meant to prevent forgery by the masses that yearned for entry to these private gala balls. Even today, in modern Carnevale the most exclusive balls and parties are next to impossible to attend, with one exception.

Knowledgeable tourists who book well in advance may attend Il Ballo del Doge, which means the Doge’s ball. The Doge is the name of the senior government official from medieval Venice. Presumably, the title remains and Il Ballo del Dog is the most exclusive of public Carnevale celebrations. Il Ballo has been held for several years in the magnificent Palazzo Piszani Moretta, which is located on Venice’s famous Grand Canal.

When I attended eight years ago, the tariff was $500 per person, which included entry to the Ball and an amazing multi-course dinner with drinks and the night’s entertainment. Attending Il Ballo del Doge was an experience our family will never forget. For those not able to obtain the limited tickets the rest of the public Carnevale activities are well worth attending.

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