February is definitely the month of carnivals. It is a time of decorated costumes, balls, fun and parades. Who hasn’t heard of the Rio-Carnival? It is one of the most famous carnivals in the world, but of course, here in Europe we also have many famous carnival celebrations and this is why we have dedicated this post to Carnivals.
Let’s start with the meaning of the word “Carnival”. It is believed, that the word “carnival” comes from the combination of Italian words carne (meat) and vale (delete), which means a break from eating meat dishes and a time for feasting before Lent.
So, where can we see streets full of colorful masks, music, dancers and fun? In Europe’s Carnival Capital - Venice –also known as the European Rio de Janeiro.
The Carnival of Venice (Il Carnevale di Venezia) has been around for over 900 years and is the oldest street party in Europe. It was once the longest running carnival in the world. The first written reference of the Carnival of Venice dates back to 1268, but even as early as the 11th century Venetians used masks, which are now the main symbol of the "floating" city and the carnival itself. The Carnival of Venice had its peak of popularity during the Renaissance period, but despite its long history and demand the carnival also experienced a more silent period, when Napoleon conquered the Republic of Venice and banned its celebration. Fortunately, the Carnival of Venice was restored in the 80s and is now a popular tourist attraction.
The date of the carnival is always different as it usually begins 10 days before Ash Wednesday, the last party before Lent. Each year the carnival has a different motto and because of this participants’ costumes differ.
The main part of the carnival takes place in the Grand Canal and San Marco Square (Piazza San Marco), known as the largest ballroom in Europe. An exhibition of carnival masks in also available in the Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale). On the final day of the festival, the most beautiful mask is selected and a party with fireworks takes place in San Marco Square. Traditionally, at midnight the 11th century bell tower of St. Mark beings to ring, which signals the end of carnival and the start of Lent.
So, what’s the main idea behind the Carnival of Venice?
The idea underlying the carnival was to blur the differences in class between rich and poor residents of the Venetian Republic. During the festival, everyone was treated as equals and enjoyed the right to the same amount of fun. Nowadays, during the Carnival of Venice, almost all participants enjoy themselves incognito - with masks on their faces.
So, are we entitled to call the Carnival of Venice, the European Rio de Janeiro? Yes, without a doubt! Between these two parades, there are more similarities than you might have been aware of. Firstly, the two events are based on competition. The carnival in Venice selects the most beautiful mask and in Rio, dance groups compete for the title of the best samba school. What’s more, in both cases the motto of the carnival is different each year.
Each Brazilian samba school creates their own leading theme, founded on fabulous choreography and costumes. What is interesting is that both the carnival in Venice and the carnival in Rio touches on social status. In the past, at the Rio carnival, the aristocracy dressed up as ordinary people and poor residences dressed up as royalty. It was the only time of the year when everyone was treated as equals.
Hope, this piece of history will give you more of a reason to visit Venice during the carnival period.