The annual Venice Carnival (or “Carnevale”) is one of the biggest celebrations in Italy. Prepare yourself to be surrounded with parades, concerts, markets, and of course the ornate Venetian masks! But what exactly is this carnival for? When did it start? Don’t worry, we’re here to answer all your questions!

Venice Carnival
Carnival in Venice, with boats in the Grand Canal

The Venice Carnival is a two-week-long festival which is held annually in the month of February. The whole city gets in their most festive and colourful mood during this extravagant festival that is world-famous for its elaborate costumes masks.

Why is it celebrated?

The carnival is said to have originated in 11th century, for the celebration of Venice Republic’s victory over its enemy: The Patriarch of Aquileia, Ulrico di Treven. To honour and celebrate their victory, the people of Venice gathered in Saint Mark’s Square (San Marco Square) to dance. Ever since then, the victory is celebrated by the people in the streets of the floating city.

What is it all about?

Held for the first time in the 11th century, the Venice Carnival quickly became an official event during the Renaissance and came to be known as a famous symbol for Venice. Since the 11th century, the carnival was carried on for several centuries until it was outlawed in 1797. During this time, Republic of Venice fell to the hands of the Holy Roman Emperor Francis II (and later Austria) who banned both the carnival and mask-wearing.

Venice Carnival
Venetian masks

After a long absence, (almost a 200-year break) the carnival was brought back in the late 1970s. The Italian government helped Venice to reconnect with its festival heritage in order to rejuvenate the culture and economy of Venice. The Carnival has resurrected thanks to the efforts of both costume- and mask-makers, and the city’s tourism industry also saw a marked surge of interest. The Carnival has since been celebrated every year, drawing as many as three million visitors into the city every year and is the most anticipated event in Venice.

Masks are one of the most striking features of the carnival. Mask makers enjoy a unique position in society and have their own laws along with a guild. Venetian masks are generally made of leather, porcelain or using the original glass technique. The original masks often had a symbolic and practical function.

When does it happen?

This Carnival in Venice takes place in the days leading up to Lent, and specifically during in the weeks leading up to Shrove Tuesday (which is forty days before Easter). In 2020, it is going to run from 8th February to 25th February.

How can you visit?

Venice Carnival

There is no specific entry fee for the Venice Carnival. However, there would be some events that will require a fee, but you can always choose whether you want to attend it or not. Particularly the opulent masquerade balls might require invitations and might have steep ticket prices, there will also be many others, like the candle-lit parade of boats, concerts, and street performances, which are free and open to the public. Here’s a link to the Carnival’s 2020 Programme Schedule.

Should Venice be celebrating its Carnival this year?

But while we have discussed all that is going to happen here, keeping in mind the current state of events in Venice: Should it really have its annual carnival? Just last November, the city was hit by the biggest flooding since 1966. Due to which, more than 80% of the city, a Unesco world heritage site, was underwater. While there were many historic sites that were affected, St. Mark’s Square which is where the main festivities take place, was hit by some of the worst floodings.

Tourists were seen wading through flooded streets to seek shelter as a fierce wind whipped up waves in St. Mark’s Square. The intense “acqua alta” or high waters, peaked at 1.87 metres (six feet) as the flood alarms sounded across the Italian city of canals. The vestibule of the Basilica was also inundated with water, and authorities planned to watch the building overnight. With the city sitting between 3-4 feet, since 2003 a massive infrastructure project has been underway to protect the city, but it has been troubled by cost overruns, scandals and delays. The city was declared a state of calamity by Mayor Luigi Brugnaro.

Also Read: Italy Hit With The Worst Rainstorm. Venice Submerged And In A State of Calamity

Along with that, let’s not forget that Venice in recent years has been in a constant battle with over-tourism. “While travelers fuel the city’s economy, they’re also the primary contributors to Venice’s biggest problem: overcrowding”, reports The Guardian. Cruise ships, which dock by the hundreds, bring millions of day-trippers who crowd the city but contribute only a small amount to the city’s revenue. Venetians have been protesting against this mass tourism, local officials have implemented various temporary measures to ease the pressure caused by these crowds.

With critical climate crisis and the rising tide of tourists, how is Venice planning to keep up with its Annual Carnival that (as mentioned above) brings as many as three million visitors into the city?


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