Venice Carnival

pictures, history and costumes 

The Carnival in Venice is one of of the most beautiful carnivals not only in Italy, but in the whole world.

I have been to Venice during the Carnival more than once and I have a few pictures and information about it that I would like to share with you.

You can see the whole program at the official website,  

costumes at carnival in venice

The fame of the carnival comes mainly from the beautiful masks and costumes that wander around the calli and campi during this time of the year. 

We usually link masks and costumes to carnival (and Halloween), a time of parties and change, we dress up to be somebody else for a few hours.  But in Venice it hasn’t always been this way… 

History of Carnival in Venice

history of carnival in venice

Carnival has very old origins, it probably derives from the Saturnali in Ancient Rome, a time at the end of the month of December when civil rules were temporarly suspended.

It was time of banquets and subversion of the social order: for a few days slaves were free and a princeps was elected and dressed with a mask and bright colors.

A few centuries later, when Venice was administered by the Serenissima Republic, wearing masks and costumes was popular and an ordinary affair.

history of venetian masks
venice carnival
history of carnival in venice
At the time masks were used to hide one’s identity during illegal meetings or activities.  For instance, the mask was used to go to casino or brothels.  Hidden under the tabarro (a mantel) were often carried arms. 
history of venetian carnival

For this reason in 1269 the use of masks and costumes was legally forbidden, allowed only during Carnival.

Bauta (the cocked hat with a mask that was open at the bottom and permitted to eat and talk) and tabarro could be worn at official parties and on national holidays.

In the meantime the Carnival (that lasted from Christmas to Mardi Gras) and Venetian masks became more and more important, and in 1436 was established the statute of mascherari, the artisans that create the masks.

Carnival continued to be a time of transgression, where you could do anything, with the anonymity given by the mask.


Venice Carnival
In 1776 married women were forced to wear bauta and tabarro to go to the theatre.
Venice carnival

In 1700, when Carnival was at its highest, new costumes became popular, those coming from the Commedia dell’arte theatre pieces, and they continue to be among the most popular: Pulcinella, Colombina, Arlecchino, Pantalone. 

history of venice carnival

From 1797, with the end of the Republic of Venice and the invasion of Napoleon first and the Austrian Empire later, the Carnival was suspended and prohibited. Masks could only be worn at private parties.

Carnival was organised again only recently, in 1979.

venice carnival mask

The carnival today

Nowadays curious and enthusiastic from all over the world come to Venice not only to see the beautiful costumes, but also to wear them.

It is possible to buy or rent a costume in the few ateliers that can still be found in Venice.

Around town you can see many stalls selling cheap masks, but true Venetian masks are made in papier-maché, not plastic, and cost from 30 euro up (they are artisanal works).

venetian masks
maschera veneziana
Some of the costumes you can see in Venice during the Carnival are traditional, with the white mask and the rich headgear.  Others are inspired by movie characters or exotic cultures. 
venetian mask
carnival in venice

Carnival is one of my favorite times to visit Venice; during about two weeks you can see costumes on gondolas, prizes are given to the best masks and all type of events are organized.

venice carnival photographer
And don’t forget the frittella, an equally important protagonist of the Carnival in Venice. 
venetian frittella
venetian costumes
venice carnival
venetian mask
masks in venice

Venice during the Carnival is particularly busy and sometimes it’s difficult to move around, but I think it deserves a visit at least once in a lifetime. 

venice carnival
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