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Carnival of Venice: The Italian Dreamy Stravaganza

Sources differ on the period when the first Carnival of Venice was held, some say it was in the 11th century whereas others say that it was in the 12th century. Whatever the century it was created, the Venetian Carnival was organized in the greatest secrecy. It was a time of the year when people could break the rigid social rules, as long as they kept their identity hidden. Exciting!

in masks and costumes, the poor and rich could enjoy for a few days the freedom of being someone else.

 

Medico de la Peste Carnival of Venice
Il Medico della Peste Mask

 

This anonymity was so popular and appreciated that in the 18th century, many people wore masks in the city for more than six consecutive months! I think about how many clandestine romances flourished in such an environment. What happens in the alleys of Venice…stay in the alleys of Venice! La Serenissima is seductive in more ways than we know!

Bauta Carnival of Venice Mask
The Bauta mask

When the Republic of Venice passed under Austrian sovereignty in 1797, the new order in place banned carnival and the wearing of masks.

Later, the fascist government of Mussolini also banned the festivities of the Carnival of Venice in the 1930s.

Carnival of Venice Mask
The Gnaga Mask

But the Venetians never lost their taste for resplendent costumes and the mystery of the masks, and in the late 1970s, after more than 200 years ban, the Carnival has made its comeback in all its former glory!

Maybe because it was once prohibited, Venice Carnival is known for its perseverance in keeping the old traditions, no exceptions made! You’ll hardly find adaptations to our modern days,  “conceptual” garments or masks are rare. It’s not an occasion to play Lady Gaga. All the costumes are very similar to the original Middle Age garment.  I believe this zest is the secret for the popularity of the Carnival. It feels as magic as in the photos, and everyone gets into the game! As you walk through the Piazza San Marco you’ll realize that the different characters behave and speak in a theatrical style, it’s mesmerizing!

Mental post it: Originally Venetian masks were made from leather, ceramic or glass and had a very sensible or symbolic purpose. Today they’re frequently made from hand-painted gesso or papier-mâché and adorned with gems and feathers.  In Venice, you can find all of them! The most traditional are the Bauta, Moretta, Gnaga, Medico della Peste, Pantalone, Volto, Zanni, Arlecchino, and Colombina. Each mask has a compelling story, worthy to know!

The earliest mentions of masks weren’t so flattering, though. The Great Council of Venice made it a crime for masked individuals to throw the  ovi odoriferi (scented egg – free your imagination here!) at people, taking advantage of the anonymity the masks provided. These were eggshells filled with rose water, but sometimes they were malevolent eggs filled with ink or other unknown, harmful substances (any resemblance to your old school days?)

Venetian masks feature prominently in the films Eyes Wide Shut and Marco Bellocchio‘s The Witches’ Sabbath. Stores that supplied the masks include both  Ca’ Macana and Il Canovaccio in Venice. These famous stores also offer masks workshops and ateliers, so you can discover the mascherari craft!

 

Getting ready
Posing, posing and posing!
I’ve found Princess Merida!
Me and hubby at the Cafe Florian, a Venetian Institution
I was lucky to find these elegant Venetian guys! My dress, so humble!
What a handsome creature out of a fairytale!

Wigs resting after a full day and night of amusement and discoveries!

TIPS TO TAKE PART IN THE CARNIVAL

The Carnival is by far the best time to visit Venice! It’s crowded and overpriced but nothing compares to the sensation of being in an extravagant Wonderland!  That’s the only word I can use to describe it! So forget all you the bad comments and reviews (yes, you’ll probably get a poorer service because the waiters are overwhelmed and your food won’t be cooked to perfection, but believe me, you never remind a place for such minor things when it has so much more to offer!

In Venice, do like the Venetians and wear a mask and a suit, it’s really a game changer because it makes of you part of the spectacle instead of an observer, which is way more fun!

If you plan to return for several consecutive years, you may even decide to opt for a costume made of the finest materials. The more enthusiastic Venetians have one costume tailored per year, it’s part of their lives, they’re the Carnival most fervent defenders!

If you do not feel ready to take the plunge, you can rent glistening, luxurious costumes virtually everywhere in Venice. The city is punctuated by workshops that offer both costumes and accessories; it is even possible to rent or buy an embroidered purse in which to slide your mobile phone. If you are traveling with other people, you can also rent matching suits.

Costume rental for 24 hours will cost you between € 200 and € 1,500, depending on whether you prefer to dress at Atelier Pietro Longhi, a shop mentioned in Dan Brown Inferno’s novel, or a more modest workshop.

Plus, the masks are small accessories and thus a great (and not bulky) souvenir of your participation in the most famous carnival in the world.

Or you can do what we did and save money (but not space in your luggage): we rented our matching costumes (the ones in the pictures) at a Parisian shop for less than 250€ for both! They were modest but it was enough to grasp the spirit of the celebration! We borrowed the masks from my mother-in-law (your Venitian souvenir can go a long way!) and bought two cheap wigs, simple and efficient! We even got people asking to take pictures with us, mind that!

There are also dinners and balls you can attend, these you really must reserve in advance, I suggest 3 months. And if you decide to go, then rent or buy the best outfit your budget can afford, this is really the real thing, as you’ll see in the video below. The best ones sold out quickly.  And they’re definitely worthy!

Don’t miss the Volo dell’Angelo , the Flight of the Angel , the event that officially opens the Carnival and the Best Mask Contest!

P.S: You’ll be so close to Murano and Burano, so don’t miss the opportunity to check!

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