Every visitor to Venice, or Venezia as the locals call it, has seen the thousands and thousands of masks on sale throughout the city. Indeed, many tourists are likely to have bought one of these face coverings as a souvenir to hang on their walls back home. Despite the sheer volume of masks on sale, it is very rare indeed you will see a Venetian wearing one… until Carnival.
Venice’s Carnival takes place every year and ends at Lent on Shrove Tuesday. This year it runs for over two and half weeks (26 January – 12 February 2013). As I have a close friend living in the city, I have been a frequent visitor to Venice over the past decade – usually in the spring or summer – but decided to time my visit for Carnival this year. The original Carnevale was said to have started in the 12th century to celebrate a war victory, when the Venetians met up in Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square) to dance and reunite. It became an official celebration during the Renaissance period, but declined in the 18th century. However, the festival resumed in 1979 and has proved a big draw for tourists, with an estimated 3 million people converging on the islands to join in the pomp and festivities.
Carnevale takes over the whole island with dressing up, music, balls and special festival food appearing all over. In contrast to Rio De Janeiro’s Carnival, which runs simultaneously and sees participants in skimpy clothes, the Carnevale di Venezia sees locals and visitors alike renting and buying period costumes, which cover them from head-to-toe. The main hub of Carnevale is Piazza San Marco – otherwise known as ‘the Drawing Room of Europe’ – where a main stage is set up for performances and demonstrations and the costumed festivalgoers flock to show off their finery. The Piazza is turned into a Cannes Film Festival of sorts, with people in costume becoming the celebrities. As you looked around you, groups of dozens of people holding cameras would be crowded around a costumed individual or pairs, who were working their best red carpet poses. The colours and variety of costumes and different styles of masks are quite a sight to behold. What’s also nice is the people in the costumes don’t require payment, they’re just enjoying their anonymous moment in the spotlight. While many tourists seemed to get in on the action by wearing a mask or getting their faces painted, some can go the whole hog and visit one of the many mask shops who rent costumes for the special event.
- To find out more about this year’s festival, visit the official Carnevale di Venezia website.
Metro Girl also went to Italy last year to the stunning island of Ischia in the Bay Of Naples. For the travel review on Ischia, read Move over Capri, Ischia is the island to go in Campania (with better beaches too!)
For Metro Girl’s other travel reviews, check out the You Can Take The Girl Out Of London… section.