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Inspirational things to do, Perfect places  |  04 April 2019

Venice Carnevale.

An inspirational display dating back to the eleventh century.

During March we were captivated by the stunning images on social media of Venice Carnevale.  Every year, thousands dress up in historical costume & masks in an impressive display of flamboyance, artistry & colour that dates back to the eleventh century.

Carnevale has an incredibly rich tradition. It was conceived in the eleventh century as a period of feast & festival prior to Lent — a time of restraint. It was however banned in 1787 by Napoleon in an attempt to limit the chances of rebellion against his regime. The ban lasted through to the 1970’s when a group of Venetian artists came together to restore the tradition & rehabilitate the long-forgotten art of mask making.

It’s thought the word Carnevale derives from two Latin words: ‘Carne’ and ‘vale’ that translate as ‘farewell to meat’. It is rooted in both the Greek and Roman traditions taking its inspiration from the Latin Saturnalia and the Greek Dionysian cults. Both were major religious festivals involving the use of masks and symbolic representations. Carnevale takes its cue from these traditions recasting them for its own purposes. In the Saturnalia of ancient Rome the social order was overturned & slaves and free citizens poured into the city to celebrate with music and wild dancing. Whilst in the Greek Dionysia processions and plays were intended to reconnect participants with nature / the natural world free of the social conventions established by man.


Traditionally the Venice Carnevale sought to create relief from the highly ordered & restrictive social hierarchy, which was turned on its head with the donning of masks giving the wearer total anonymity from social class & constraints. The Venetian Republic promoted Carnevale as a way to give ‘the people’ (especially the lower classes) a period of frivolity & merriment as a means of relieving social tensions. The masks worn for Carnevale guaranteed total anonymity & thus provided a temporary means of levelling social division — so much so that this provided an opportunity for citizens to publicly mock the governing authority & aristocracy. These generous licenses represented an outlet for the tension and ill-feeling resulting from the strict social limits imposed by the morality and public order controls of the Republic of Venice.

Darker times

In 1339 a night time ban was decreed on masks and costumes because after sunset, under the cover of darkness Carnevale transgressed into something more sinister. Mysterious attackers could freely commit crimes of various kinds with a high chance of impunity thanks to the anonymity guaranteed by the mask.

By the eighteenth century with thousands pouring into Venice for the festivities Carnevale became harder to manage. The ability to completely hide one’s identity increasingly became a means to an end for criminal elements. Theft, harassment & anti-social behaviour of various kinds increased sharply forcing the Venetian Republic to issue a series of decrees to limit abuses & fraudulent use of masks & costumes. Sadly these measures began to undermine the very essence of Carnevale, particularly its values of freedom and equality leading to it finally being banned completely.

Present day

In 1979 a program to engage the inhabitants of Venice in the Venetian festivities was drafted when a group of artists formed a working party to resurrect Carnevale & return it to its origins. The new formula has proven a great success with the revived festival going from strength to strength over the last thirty years.

2019’s (30th anniversary following relaunch) festival has just finished & we’ve been loving the beautiful images posted daily on social media by legions of Carnevale participants & spectators.

This year Venice Carnevale consisted of more than 120 events, which in-keeping with its traditions have included large outdoor parties, parades, small performances, theatrical shows & opulent masked balls in Venetian palaces. Venice provides a stunning backdrop for such vibrant & colourful displays & people from all over the world are once again flocking to the festivities.

One event we would love to watch is the Regata Storica, the grand, historical, procession of traditional boats where participants dress in dramatic costume. This visually stunning event dramatises the arrival of Catherine Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus, in Venice in 1489.

Not having made it to Venice we’ve been following travel blogger Carlotta Tanisi who’s Instagram feed is @mywaytonever_land. Carlotta has been lucky enough to visit Carnevale in person & has generously let us share her images with you. Do check her out on Instagram, soon she’ll be posting images of a trip to Marrakech.

In addition the official Venice Carnevale page @venice_carnival_official has kindly given us permission to share some of their images.  You can see more on their feed but don’t forget to follow their official hashtag #CarnevaleVenezia2019

Venice Carnevale is high on our bucket list — what festivals have captured your imagination and why? We’d love to hear your stories.

Photo credits:


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