We now come to the Final Act of our Adventures in Venice, to think I have waited for years…. Carnivale!!!
All the roads, alleys, canals were leading to this moment. The Costumes were worked on for months and where now hanging in our amazing hotel walk in wardrobe.
Venice Carnivale started in 1162 with a celebration of victory for the Venice Republic with dancing in San Marco Square, it is only appropriate for it to have began in that period as the Renaissance was the birth of art, culture and a new dawn of history.
In the 17th Century is was an exquisite baroque festival, in the 18th century it became famous to the world. It allowed you to break down your walls, including the class barrier and indulge in dancing, frolicking and pleasure but under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire, Emperor of Austria Francis II had the festival banned in 1797 and masks were forbidden to be worn. (Talk about party pooper). In 1970 the Italian Government decided to bring it back for the Venetians, a chance for Venice to celebrate Culture and History once more with the world.
The masks culture was recreated by Venetian college students just after the carnivale was reinstated allowing us to join in with the frolicking, dancing and pleasure that was once enjoyed centuries beforehand. Wearing a mask during Carnivale was the perfect opportunity for people of all classes to let themselves be in a free atmosphere, to enjoy what pleasures they wanted. I can imagine a gentleman of social standing donning his mask and frolicking in the streets, drinking what he pleased and letting go of social structure. It is said that covering your face with a mask during carnivale was a unique release as Venetian hierarchy was one one the most rigid in European history. Laws in the city were suspended during this period and all could dress how they liked. Towards the end of the original carnivale period mask wearing from prohibited. I wonder what they did to stop that traditional, I can only imagine.
The styles of mask used are the
Bauta - worn by men mostly in the end with a long black cape and a tricorn hat. It became the standard mask to wear, especially during political decisions as it was anonymous among peers.
Colombina - this is a half mask that only covers ones eyes. Decorated in silver and gold with feathers to top it off. It was more the female mask as it is said it was designed after an Italian actress only wished to show part of her face. It is held together with a ribbon or stands upon a baton.
The Plague Doctor - one of the most famous images of Venice. It is almost captivating as you don't know if it is a friend or foe. It did not start in Venice, but in France in the 17th Century when a French physician adopted the mask as a sanitary precaution from plague victims. An interesting fact to know about the mask was that it was designed to allow the hollow beak to have flowers and sweet smelling items inside to keep the stench at bay.
Moretta - is a small oval mask that has no straps and sits perfectly on the face by the use of buttons that are head in the mouth. This too came from France in the 16th century and was the perfect delicate shape for a woman's face. As it was held on by the wearer using their mouth is wouldn't let them speak hence the other name for the mask Servetta Muta.
These wonderful mask where once created as simple pieces but they soon grew as art pieces in themselves. They are now created using leather, the traditional of humble paper mache and porcelain. They are so beautifully decorated by local artist using gold leaf, feathers and stunning art scenes. When in Venice if you wish to be masked please buy from local artist. There are multiple amazing shops all over the city as well as stalls that sell stunning pieces and affordable pieces too so much sure you check that it has a seal pressed into showing it is from Venice.
Nowadays when visiting Venice for Carnivale there are many events to take part in. It was always our goal to be there for the official opening of Carnivale and to take in a ball. We searched for years to find the perfect one for us during our first experience of Venice Carnivale.
There are many traditions to witness in Venice during Carnivale, with balls dotted throughout the city, music in the streets, best mask competitions, masked pedestrians and not to mention the most famous events during Carinvale such as the Regatta down the Grand Canal and the Flight of the Angels.
The festival happens 6 weeks before Easter and ends just before Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. So make sure you check your dates via the official website beforehand to know when the Carinvale will fall.
The Carinvale begins (unofficially the locals say) with the Masked Regatta which a convoy of boats sail down the Grand Canal where the people in the boats and the boats themselves are wearing masks. The parade begins at 11am with all the boats following 1 boat that is dressed as a Rat. They head to Rio do Cannaregio to finish the parade where food stalls are set up to serve local tradition foods for Carnivale such as the rigoletta (a pastry dumpling with raisins inside and coated with sugar. Yummo!) The Regatta is the first weekend before the Flight of the Angels.
The next important event is the Festa dell Maria which consists of 12 local Venetian girls crossing the city pit-stopping along the way from San Pietro di Castello at 2.30pm and finishing in San Marco Square at 4pm. This is a display costumes made by local artist, taking in the history of the city. The Girl who wins Festa dell Maria will become the Angel for the following years Flight
There are Best Dressed Costumes and Best Masks events every day during the festival, which you need to pre-enter to be included. So head to the official website to choose a date.
The big show to see which officially opens Carnivale is the Flight of the Angels. It partakes in the heart of Venice in San Marco Square. At the stroke of 11am on the Sunday morning you will look up to the tower and see an Angel fly down in the Square.
As of 2019 we got to see 2 women fly down from the Tower one dressed as a knight in shining armour with a crown of stars and then the 2nd Angel was the Girl who won the Festa dell Maria the previous year and was elected to be the Grand Angel for 2019. She was dressed in such an incredible green shiny gown with wings symbolising the glass of Murano and the Grand Canal, all to the sound of Major Tom by David Bowie as the backdrop and confetti everywhere. She was met by the Doge and then the festival began.
It is best to arrive in the Square up to an hour early as there are certain entrances to help with the crowd and security, as well as ensuring a fantastic view of this unique festival activity.
We of course went to the Flight of the Angels in full Costume, because you just have to as well as Why Not! The streets and Square had people in full Costume walking around. It was for us a chance of stepping back in time, being able to experience what it would have been like, to be able use these really stunning Costumes I had made, not to mention the hundreds of people stopping us to take photos which made me smile so much as they were so excited to see us dressed to the nines in these costumes including this huge headpieces which I actually couldn’t walk down the narrow alleys with. It made me happy to see my Mother smile as she said she has never felt more beautiful as people wanted photos with her.
For the next week's San Marco Square is covered in confetti and music playing all the time which only gives you the encouragement to join in the festivities of the Carnivale. Especially as the Square and Streets will be lined with people in full costume and masks. We headed to a dance party one evening in San Marco Square too.
Now we come to the big show Mum and I had been looking forward to for years. Every year we would do research for the best Masked Ball to go to. Either a traditional ball or a ball with acrobats and disco music. We found a good one that was full of traditional as we got to sit in a 18th Century Ballroom enjoying the taste of Traditional Venetian Food with fish, sweets and Italian wine. We joined in the 18th Century Dancing lead by our host for the evening dressed head to toe in 1700’s Costumes, we danced to charming music played by a Quartet and while we ate an incredible Opera Singer serenaded us ( I am pretty sure she sang Mary had a Little Lamb at one point) . It was perfect and everything we even wanted to experience, including a chance to wear these huge brightly coloured Tudor and Renaissance Costumes which really did stand out (we where proud of being so unique), we also brought some Mask in Venice created by Local Artist which really made the Costumes we where wearing.
I have to warn you Balls are not cheap after many years of research we thought What the Damn hell and we spent a pretty penny on this experience, of course we would do it all again. So make sure you do your research into the best experience for you. You can research balls using this website and see what is best for you style of experience.
This was the bucket list experience we have always wanted to have, we got to experience the excitement in the street and in San Marco Square, we took part of old and revived traditional, we got to go to a ball and dance all night and we got to frolic around Venice in the dream costumes we wanted to have. I am already designing the next costume I want to wear and which party to go to. Venice is always a good idea…..
Dates change every year so make sure you check out the official website with the up coming years dates and times.