Here are a few interesting facts about Venice’s Carnival:
Elaborate Costumes with Volta Masks
Think Carnival in Venice is a recent phenomenon? Think again! It has its beginnings in the Dark Ages and survived until the early 19th century when it was banned under the rule of Austria, and then it was brought to life again about thirty-five years ago as a way to promote Venice. Carnival is now an annual event of a few weeks celebrated so it ends with the beginning of Lent. This year, 2015, it is being celebrated from Jan 31st to February 17th.
Masks are probably the first thing one thinks of in relation to this Carnival. Originally, Venetians could and did wear masks from December 26th to Lent, and some wore them from as early as October. These were an extremely popular form of adornment.
Display of Various Carnival Masks – note the Plague Doctor ( far right)
Because masks were so prevalent for a good portion of the year, common sense laws had to be enacted concerning their use such as not being allowed to carry arms or gamble while masked. And some laws would not be so necessary to today’s lifestyle: in the 1300’s, it was illegal to visit a convent while masked.
Masks historically were such an important part of Carnival- and Venice – that the makers had their own guilds and laws.
Today, masks give an economic boost to the tourist trade, and are the highlight of the Carnival. A contest is held each year for the most beautiful mask with prestigious judges from the worlds of fashion and design.
A Traditional Bauta Mask – It Allows the Wearer to Eat & Drink
There are about eight different categories of masks, some of which have fallen into disuse over the years. Perhaps the most easily recognized is the Plague Doctor which did not start as a Carnival mask but as a “protection” worn by the doctors of the day against this deadly disease. It has the long bird-like beak, large eyes and is traditionally white. The Columbina is a beautifully decorated half mask held to the face with a baton though it can also be tied with ribbon. The Volto is commonly seen: it covers the entire face, is white or sometimes gilded, and has features such as nose and lips.
One type of mask, now long discarded, was a black velvet lady’s mask with no features and held onto the face by a bit clenched between the wearer’s lips. No surprise it did not endure as the wearer could neither speak nor eat in this disguise!
Traditional Volta Masks
Several million visitors a year now descend on Venice for Carnival. It means the city is jam packed and consequently prices to stay there are higher – but it is an event not to be missed.
Carnival is not just masked balls these days but everything from classical concerts with world renowned musicians to pub crawls to themed
Man in Volta mask and costume
tours and party cruises. Throw in wine tasting and sumptuous banquets – what’s not to love?
Can’t go for all of the Carnival season? Make sure your visit coincides with a week-end or during the final week. There’s much more to do during those times. You will be spoiled for choice !
Tag your visit onto a tour of the region. Ask your travel professional for advice.