Friday, 21 February 2014

Carnival fun in Venice

Let the fun begin. The "Carnevale di Venezia" is in full swing this week, ending this year(2015) on the 17th February marking the beginning of Lent, a christian celebration.  
This ancient city on water displays its most elegant costumes and masks and its streets and canals are filled with a magical atmosphere that is unique in the world. 'Carnevale' is the very epitome of extravagance, as visitors flock from all over the globe to enjoy the most decadent fancy-dress party on earth. You either play the tourist (which is what I did one year) and observe, or you immerse yourself in the festivities wearing a handcrafted mask and divine costume, kicking up your heels, drinking champagne (which is also what I did one year). Although Venice is crumbling and has mass tourism, especially during carnevale, it still has that mystical aura that makes it so special. It has to be one of the most unique and culturally rich cities in the worldConsisting of 118 small islands separated by canals and linked by bridges, rich with opulent architecture, renaissance art, famous for it's music being the birthplace of Antonio Vivaldi, and a history like the city itself....unique......there really could not be a more perfect city to hold such a theatrical event such as carnevale. Watching these exquisite ornate costumes and masks strolling through ancient streets is what makes it so captivating. 
The carnevale has a history that dates back to the 12th century but became official in the 15th century. The masked balls and parades became an important part of Venice especially in the 18th Century when it reached its hey dey  as the Venetian Republic collapsed and social conventions and rules were relaxed. The congregation of masked people along with the street parades, extravagant restaurants, queer theatres where performances took place, became one of the most elaborate events in all Europe.

The mask, as well as serving a decorative function could nicely conceal the identity of the wearer, which became highly popular in elite circles. Many important and famous people such as politicians, princes, rich heirs, nobles from all of Europe came to enjoy the wild festivities, spending fortunes on activities such as gambling, brothels, theatres, alcohol and restaurants as well as booths where one could see exotic animals, ropewalkers and jugglers. (Imagine the naughty things that took place!! ). Sadly, after Napoleon invaded in 1797 the carnevale tradition fell into decline, the Italian ruler Mussolini subsequently banned the wearing of masks and so carnevale sadly ended.  After a long absence, it re-emerged  in 1979 and it hasn't looked back.
For those fortunate enough to visit Venice during carnevale,try and not be put off by the zillions of tourists. If you can, immerse yourself in it's renaissance beauty and full splendour of this baroque event. Sit in cafes sipping on prosecco and watch it all unfold, meander thru the narrow laneways (ok there might be a few of you) chasing the costumes, wake up at 5am and listen to men singing at dawn from their windows, buy an artisan mask and dance in the streets wearing it. Just take it all in I say. 
Carnevale agenda comprises of many activities: masked processions through Piazza San Marco, musical and theatre performances throughout the Piazza and other areas, with Sunday being a spectacular day on the canals: hundreds of gondolas carrying masked passengers paddle down the grand canal. 
Then of course there are the many balls and lavish cocktail parties such as The Enchanted Palace Ball and the Feast of the Gods Ball where Bacchus the god of wine invites you to feast and drink wine and have too much fun whilst dancing under frescoes painted by Giovanni Bellini.  But the undisputed highlight is the Gran Ballo delle Maschere or Doge’s Ball, which takes place in different locations across Venice, usually in a grand palace or residence. The costumes, masks and general extravagance on display is unrivaled.This ball has been running since 1994 and organised by event extraordinaire Antonia Sautter. Vanity fair called it "The most sumptuous and exclusive, famous and sought after mundane event in the world."  
Plenty  more photos by clicking on Galleria foto
However for me the real stars of the carnevale are the "mask makers". These special craftsmen and women continue this ancient craftmaking tradition in generally dark, crammed and most certainly colouful "botteghe" (workshops): making exquisite masks of leather, porcelain or glass with meticulous detail for all of us to enjoy.
For more information on Venice Carnevale go to  www.venicecarnival-italy.com  
If you're a last minute organiser, you still have time to join in the fun even if just for the day. Otherwise I would say, if you haven't been, place it on your "bucket list" but be sure to be a part of it and dress up...way more fun. 
Ciao Gessica X

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