Spring Carnival

Spring Carnival

The world’s largest and most famous masked ball. Venice’s pre-Lenten Carnevale had existed since the

Middle Ages, but it came into its own in the 18th century. As the Venetian Republic slipped into terminal

decline, the city’s pagan side began to emerge. Carnevale became an outlet for all that had been prohibited

for centuries by the strong and sober arm of the doge. Elaborate structures would be set up in piazza San

Marco as stages for acrobats, tumblers, wrestlers and other performers. Masks served not only as an

escape from the drabness of everyday life but to conceal the wearer’s identity – a useful ploy for nuns on

the lam or slumming patricians.

The Napoleonic invasion in 1797 brought an end to the fun and games, and Carnevale was not resuscitated

until the late 1970s. When it was reintroduced, it was predominantly with money-earning in mind: the city

authorities and hoteliers’ association saw the potential, and today the heavily subsidised celebrations draw

revellers from all over the world.

But if Carnevale fills Venetian hotels and coffers, it also gives the locals with a chance for fun and games.

Visitors flock to piazza San Marco, where professional poseurs in ornate (and exorbitant) costumes occupy

prime spots and wait for the world’s press photographers to immortalise them. Venetians, on the other

hand, organise private masked and costumed celebrations, or gather in smaller squares: the 40xVenezia

association (www.40xvenezia.it) – a social networking website created as a place where Venice’s thirty- and

forty-something professionals can can pool concerns and ideas, for example, turned campo Bella Venezia

into a joyous Indian reserve for Carnevale 2009.

The party starts ten days before martedì grasso (Shrove Tuesday), though plans are afoot to kick off the

festivities even earlier. Tourist offices can provide full Carnevale programmes.


Where Piazza San Marco.

When 10 days ending on Shrove Tuesday.

Information Tourist information (www.turismovenezia.it).