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“At carnival the whole world is young, even the old ones. At the carnival the whole world is beautiful, even the ugly ones.” (Nicolaï Evreïnov) The craziest and most colourful festival of the year, the party in which it is permissible to let go, to forget every obligation, every bond, every formality, to dedicate oneself completely to play, to joke, to happiness. It has Italian origins the Carnival, derived from the Saturnalia of ancient Rome and the Greek Dionysian feasts. The name derives from the Latin phrase carnem levare, depriving itself of meat, and refers to the Lenten Christian tradition of abstention from eating meat. Before closing the taps of taste and following a sort of vegetarian diet, it is possible to go to the Shrove Tuesday, the day of the last banquet, the day when we are binged with all the delicacies, such as the famous Carnival sweets: chatter , frappe, migliaccio and so on, and so forth. Carnival is therefore the day of excesses, at the table and in the street, where you go down to have fun with jokes, strictly masked. The tradition of masks has always accompanied the Carnival: behind an anonymous and fictitious face anyone could forget the social differences, individual identity, concerns and simply be a person among others, ready to lose your mind for that one day of excess, according to the ancient Latin saying of the “semel in anno licet insanire” (once a year it is permissible to go crazy).

Carnival parade

Carnival parade

Carnival in Italy: a happy tradition of music and colours

At the Italian Carnival is usually associated with traditional regional masks, but in reality these symbols were born for the theatre and not for the famous winter festival. In the sixteenth century the Commedia dell’Arte brought to life the typical vices of the society of the time: avarice, laziness, cunning, deceit. To make them better it was necessary to create ad hoc characters, in which all these “beautiful” qualities were condensed. Thus were born the various Pulcinella, Pantalone, Arlecchino, Colombina, and many others. Each region has its Italian Carnival masks: colourful, exaggerated, with a well-defined personality and characteristics.

Harlequin mask

Harlequin mask

But more than the individual masks, more than the costumes that each of us has on the day of Shrove Tuesday, in Italy the Carnival is configured as a real ritual, a highly anticipated party and celebrated with a wealth of organization and details in some areas of Italy, known all over the world for great shows and unmissable events. Here are the most famous Italian carnivals.

Venice Carnival (Veneto)

The first among the most famous carnivals in Italy is certainly the one held every year in the Veneto capital. It has been mentioned since 1904 as a series of public entertainment in the days preceding Lent. The Venetians came down the street, wearing a mask and devoted themselves totally to the carefree games, forgetting their worries. Along the Riva degli Schiavoni, in Piazzetta, in Piazza San Marco, rivers of people poured out to admire street attractions, jugglers and acrobats. And all around incessant music of trumpets and drums, street vendors of every kind of sweets. Over the decades the history of the Venice Carnival has been enriched with episodes handed over to the memory of this festival.

Venice Carnival

Venice Carnival

In 1571, on the occasion of the victory of the Christian forces in the famous Battle of Lepanto, a procession of allegorical floats was set up: the Faith crushed a chained dragon, followed by the theological virtues, the personification of Victory and Death which is also triumphant. In 1679, on the contrary the Duke of Mantua participated in the parade with an unusual procession of Indians, blacks, Turks and Tartars who, under the stunned eyes of the crowd, killed six “monsters” before starting to dance. In those years, then, began the tradition of officially opening the Carnival celebrations with the Flight of the Angel in Piazza San Marco: the descent of a young mask from the bell tower directly to the ground in the festive crowd.

Venetian masks

Venetian masks

“Qui la moglie e là il marito. Ognuno va dove gli par. Ognuno corre a qualche invito, chi a giocar chi a ballar”. So Carlo Goldoni tried to photograph in verse the Venice Carnival in the eighteenth century, a meeting point for all the masks of the world. Giacomo Casanova ventured between skirts and lace to confound love and joy in the heads and mouth of beautiful ladies. Today the Venice Carnival is a regular event, a period of 11 days of celebrations that attracts thousands of curious and passionate people from all over the world every year. A continuous theatrical performance, a great game, an open-air ballroom, a riot of voices and masks that color the fascinating depths of the most romantic lagoon on the planet.

 

Masks of the Venice Carnival

Masks of the Venice Carnival

Manufacture of masks is a real trade in Venice: among the calle (alleys) still work the master craftsmen “maschereriwho exhibit in the window Tabarro and Larva, the symbols of the Venice Carnival.. A black coat and a white mask. Together they give life to the Bauta, the lagoon mask par excellence. The more refined the Moretta, oval mask of black velvet created for women and decorated with veils. More than a popular festival, more than a tourist event, the Venice Carnival is a world unto itself, a world in which to enter covered by a colorful mask, leaving behind every greyness.

La Bauta, typical Venetian mask

La Bauta, typical Venetian mask

Carnival of Viareggio (Tuscany)

Three cannon shots fired from the sea. The signal that starts the party. A real show. The most important carnival in the world. Parades of giant allegorical floats. A month of festivities. In Viareggio everything began in 1873, in the historic Via Regia, where a group of friends had the idea of ​​a parade of carriages to celebrate the Carnival. Year after year the imagination, creativity and skill of the Masters carristi has grown and have appeared woodcarvings, canary grass and juta, up to the versatile and light papier-mâché. On the gigantic buildings there are entire musical bands and the characters of the wagons begin to move, the mechanics gives them life, to the amazement of tourists.

Carnival allegorical float

Carnival allegorical float

Burlamacco, symbolic mask of the Viareggio Carnival was created in 1930 by Uberto Bonetti. A character inspired by the masks of the Commedia dell’Arte, which sums up the two souls of the city: summer (with the white and red colours of the umbrellas) and, indeed, the Carnival. In 2001 the new Carnival Citadel was inaugurated, a city in the city where the Viareggio Carnival is “preserved”. Sixteen huge hangar-laboratories in which the giant carts are created, which each year tells, in an allegorical and satirical way, the more and more carnival Italian and international politics and modern society.

burlamacco carnevale of viareggio

Burlamacco, mask of the Viareggio Carnival

Carnival of Cento (Emilia Romagna)

Gian Francesco Barbieri, known as “Guercino”, painted the Carnevale di Cento, in the province of Ferrara in the seventeenth century, reflecting a tradition that has its roots in a very remote time. In 1947 the carnival companies were founded, the soul of this event, which still today organize the parades of the period most awaited by children. The enthusiasm of the inhabitans for this party has brought this Italian carnival to the highest levels, even coming to the twinning with the Rio de Janeiro Carnival, the most famous in the world. The protagonist of the Centese carnival is the Tasi mask, inspired by Luigi Tasini, a character who really existed in 1900. Symbol of the conscience of his fellow citizens, Tasi is set on fire to close the celebrations, after the traditional “throwing” of inflatables and peluches from stuffed floats .

Parade of the Carnival of Cento

Parade of the Carnival of Cento

Carnival of Ivrea (Piedmont)

The oldest Carnival in Italy is the one of Ivrea, in Turin. From the Middle Ages to the present day, this ritual tradition is full of symbolism that attracts curious visitors and tourists from all over the world to the small town.
It was Violetta, rebel young miller, to start the festivities with a gesture left on fire in the story of Ivrea: she, humble girl, rebelled against the law of ius primae noctis and killed the tyrant Marquis of Monferrato with his own sword . The people caught the signal to start a revolt and free themselves from sovereign power, throwing oranges. The eporediese Carnival consists of several ceremonies that draw from different eras, skilfully blended in the famous historical parade. Here are the most famous figures of the legend: the Vezzosa Mugnaia, a symbol of freedom; the Napoleonic General at the head of his General Staff; the Substitute Grand Chancellor, guardian of the ancient ritual; two very young Abbà for each of the five districts in which Ivrea is divided; the Podestà, symbol of the city’s power. In the air the sound of pipes and drums.

Carnival of Ivrea

Carnival of Ivrea

The most famous moment of these three days of celebration is undoubtedly the Battle of oranges on Shrove Tuesday, expected every year by thousands of participants. The re-enactment of the historical rebellion against tyranny lives again every year in the Carnival of Ivrea: the orange throwers on foot (the people) without any protection fight the armies of the feudal lord (wrestlers on horse-drawn carriages) with the only weapon they could have afforded, the oranges. A red hat in the shape of a sock, the Phrygian Cap, adorns the heads of citizens and visitors, symbol of the ideal adhesion to revolt against any form of tyranny. Then all in Piazza di Città, for the Abbruciamento dello Scarlo, a pile covered with heather and juniper that is set on fire as a sign of vitality and good wishes.

battle of oranges carnival of ivrea

Battle of the Oranges

Carnival of Acireale (Sicily)

In the Sicilian land of Jaci, the first news about the carnival festivities date back to 1594, as can be seen from a payment order ordered by the jurists in favor of the Capuchins for the “carnilivari feasts”. In the seventeenth century appears the characteristic mask of the carnival of Acireale, the Abbatazzu, also called Pueta Minutizzu, a satirical figure who mocked nobles and clergymen. This will be joined by Baruni and Manti. In the twenty-first century comes the cassariata, the parade of carriages (landaus) of the nobles who threw the multicolored candies to the people. Those carriages have become colorful papier-maché carriages today. The most beautiful Carnival of Sicily is now one of the typical Italian carnivals, a large and colourful party with majestic floats, flowered carts and miniature carts that parade through the streets of the historic center among the scents and flavours of the Italian island.

Carnival of Acireale

Carnival of Acireale


Carnival of Fano (Marche)

The Marche celebrations date back to 1347, but it was only in 1872 that the Fortuna Society was established, which every year produces the carnival entertainment program. Over 100,000 people participate every year in this ritual, in which the Pupo, a sacred animal used as a scapegoat for the blows committed by humanity on feast days, is set on fire, purifying everyone. Choreographies and music accompany the parade of allegorical floats from which the famous “jet” of sweets on the audience awaits with raised hands. It continues until late in the evening with the classic tour of the “luminaria“, which sees the wagons illuminated by lights. The parade is traditionally closed by the “Arabita Music”, angry music, a singular musical ensemble born in 1923 to further animate the sweetest Carnival in the world.

Carnaval de fano

Carnaval de fano

Carnival of Putignano (Apulia)

In 1394 the need to protect the relics of Santo Stefano from the Saracen raids involves Putignano, in the Apulian hinterland. The village is chosen as the ideal place to keep the sacred remains. At the passage of the procession, the farmers of Putignano abandoned their jobs to join the procession with dances and songs. This is where the Festa delle Propaggini was born, dated December 26th, the party that marks the beginning of the longest Carnival in Italy. From small carts of straw and rags to allegorical wagons made of iron and paper. A succession of rites, traditions, parades and processions that blend wisely sacred and profane. Thursday is the most important day of the Putignano Carnival week: on this occasion the satirical representations of past and present’s society are brought to the stage. From the Monsignor to the Priests, and then continue with Monks, Vedovi, Pazzi (young not yet married), married women and Cornuti (married men). The famous Accademia delle Corna organizes the whole event, which from week to week accompanies the protagonists and tourists at the peak of the event: the big night. 365 touches of the Campana del Maccheroni mark the end of the cheerful event.

Carnival of Putignano

Carnival of Putignano

Between tradition and novelty, rituals and processions, wagons and parades, music and sweets, songs and dances, Italy welcomes the Old Carnival, puppet symbol of excesses, vices, follies of men. The triumph of joy, the victory of light, the supremacy of colour. Joy for children, entertainment for adults. Happiness in confetti and streamers of freedom. Forget problems, thoughts, obstacles at home and wear another face, literally. Without thinking about what will come, simply enjoying the moment, following the warning of Lorenzo the Magnificent and his most famous song, written in honor of the Carnival: “Chi vuol esser lieto sia, del doman non c’è certezza!”

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