What the heck is Venice Carnival?

Maybe you’ve heard of Venice Carnival, or seen pictures of those funny looking people in masks and costumes. Whatever the reason, here’s the lowdown on what to know (and when to go) for Venice Carnival.

So what is Carnevale, anyways?

Venice Carnival, or Carnevale in Italian, is a festival held each year in the weeks leading up to Lent’s fasting period and Easter celebration, ending with a bang on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. Carnival celebrations are held all over the world, but Venice’s carnival hosts an exceptional display of colourful masks and costumes and is considered one of the best in the world.

What’s up with those masks?

Masks have always been an important part of Venice Carnival. Traditionally, the people of Venice were allowed to don their disguises from the Festival di Santo Stefano (St. Stephen’s Day, Dec. 26th) up until midnight of Fat Tuesday. Venetian mask-makers, or mascherari, held a special position in Italian society and were subject to their own laws and guild.

While history tells us very little of the motive behind all the mask-wearing, we do know that this Venetian tradition dates back all the way to the 13th century, where in a decree forbidding the throwing of scented eggs, there is mention of a ban against masked persons gambling . In 1339, yet another law arose that forbade citizens of the Republic from entering nun’s convents in disguise, painting one’s face or wearing false wigs/beards.  Sounds like those Venetians had an interesting sense of humor!

Types of Masks

Bauta
The Bauta style mask is a full-faced disguise and a traditional piece of art that includes lots of gilding. It has a square jaw line that is tilted upwards, allowing the wearer to eat, drink and speak without needing to remove the mask and preserving their anonymity.

Columbina
This is a half-mask style that is usually decorated with gold, silver, crystals and feathers. The Columbina is attached to a baton and held up to the face, or tied with ribbons.

Medico della Peste (The Plague Doctor)
The Medico della Peste is one of the most bizarre yet recognizable masks of Venice. It originates from the 17th century French physician Charles de Lorme, who donned the mask while treating plague victims. The mask has a long hollow beak and round eyeholes, and was traditionally worn with the usual black hat, long black cloak, white gloves and a stick (to move patients without having to come into physical contact).

Volto (Larva)
The larva mask (also called Volto) is a full-faced,  mainly white mask similar to the Bauta style.  The name comes from the Latin term meaning “mask” or “ghost”. Traditionally, these masks were made of fine wax cloth and were light and comfortable to wear, making them perfect for a night of dancing or socializing.

So now that you know all of the important info about Venice Carnival, there’s only one thing left to do…experience it for yourself! Check out FlorenceForFun’s website by clicking here for a list of dates to visit this beautiful city of water during one of the coolest parties of the year.

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