The Venice Carnival is now world famous – it always takes place during the ten days leading up to Shrove Tuesday. Carnival, being a pre-Lent festival, means ‘farewell to meat’ and is celebrated throughout Italy.it was first held in Venice in the 11th century and consisted of over two months of revelry, until it fell into decline during the 18th century. It was revived in 1979 with great success and nowadays it is a great excuse to don a mask and costume, parade around the city, enjoy the live music in the main squares of the city, the events organised by the tourist board and is a wonderful open-air festival where everyone can join in.
The modern Venetian Carnival runs up until the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (known as “Mardi Gras”), starting two Saturdays before the Tuesday. Venice carnival dates therefore vary in step with Easter as follows:
Carnival 2012: February 11 – February 21
Carnival 2013: February 2 – February 12
Carnival 2014: February 22 – March 4
Carnival 2015: February 7 – February 17
Carnival 2016: January 30 – February 9
In recent years, the official Carnival organisers have started to add a prior weekend – thus 2012′s Carnival is stated as 4-5 and 11-21 February. Whether the prior weekend is really in the spirit of the tradition remains to be seen!
Venice Carnival masks
Masks made the Venetian Carnival unique. If you cannot identify the wearer of the mask, you do not know his social status. In this way, Venice temporarily overturned her social order. Some of the masks depicted Commedia dell’Arte characters. Others were more sinister. The white-beaked mask so famous from photographs is that of the plague-doctor; the beak echoes a doctor’s long breathing apparatus that held a sponge doused in vinegar, thought to hold the plague at bay. The Doges were frequently exercised by the dangers masks allowed, and passed laws limiting their use to within the carnival period; if you wore a mask at any other time of year, penalties were severe.