Let's face it, Carnival is one of the most famous "monuments" in Venice. Oh yes, because this time of the year that sees transgression, amusement and carefree lightness as its connotative elements, reaches its maximum virtuosity in the lagoon city, with a great resonance all over the world.
Once upon a time, when Carnival took up most of the year, about six weeks, people indulged in fun in a goliardic spirit that united all, people and aristocracy, prelates and authorities, giving an unusual and permissive social leveling, unrepeatable on other days .
Yes, because the Carnival in Venice was also set up to grant the lower classes of the social scale a period dedicated exclusively to leisure, indulging in dances and celebrations rare for them. A gesture of generosity on the part of the Republic? Absolutely not! It was simply a placebo against the bad moods and tensions that were often generated within the poorer classes towards the system.
But how did this particular social leveling take place? With the disguise, true essence of the Carnival. It was enough a weird dress but above all a mask to hide one's identity, hide one's being and have fun impersonating a new identity. No one was recognizable, a mask concealed social belonging and religious belief, sex and social status. Everyone played their role perfectly: they went on stage, on the other hand Venice in those days became the most intriguing and beautiful stage in the world. The unknown also favored a certain courtesy: the greeting was due to everyone because behind that anonymity anyone could hide, and therefore a simple "good morning lady mask" was enough to clear the differences. It is Carnival, and everything is worth it, also that a rich nobleman bestows his greeting to a poor man. Incognito though.
The masks of the Carnival of Venice and the mascareri, a long tradition that lasts until today
But behind what masks did the Venetians hide their being? Let's start by saying that the masks were completely handmade, mixing clay, papier-mâché and plaster. On this white and neutral base, creativity was unleashed, creating rich and sumptuous decorations, made of colors, embroidery, precious stones and high and light feathers. It became real job: the mascareri, A bit of craftsmen, a bit of artists who worked all year to the creation of carnival masks. Even today the tradition of the mascareri is very rooted in the city, and also very much in demand. Just think that the great director Stanley Kubrick for his latest film "Eyes wide shut" chose a famous mascarere of Venice to make the masks of the famous scene of the masquerade ball to which Tom Cruise manages to infiltrate.
Returning to the Carnival, the most famous mask was undoubtedly that of the bauta, which included an entire disguise. The mask was white, with the particular shape of the pointed and protruding chin that gave the possibility of drinking and eating without having to take it off the face: this was the most widespread, both for men and women. And it was worn with the tricorn, the famous three-pointed black headdress, and a wide black cloak, called tabarro. The women loved to wear the moretta, a dark-colored velvet mask with a round shape that was supported on the face thanks to a button held in the mouth and that made it impossible to speak: the disguise was nicknamed servetta muta. Today little used because it is not comfortable to wear.
Very common among young men was the gnaga mask, which resembled the appearance of a cat: it consisted in disguising herself as a woman, deliberately loading her voice in a shrill sound and carrying a basket under her arm with a kitten inside. From here came the expression still in use "ti ga na vose da gnaga" (you have a gnaga voice), to indicate who has a shrill or high pitched tone. Around the city one of the masks that you will often see is that of the doctor of the plague, which in reality was used by doctors to visit the plague patients: it is a mask made with a long aquiline beak that allowed to contain within it a filter made with salts and aromatic herbs, which "isolated" the doctor's sense of smell from the unpleasant odor that surrounded him. Today this mask is linked to the carnival festivities because over time it has acquired a superstitious and exorcistic value with regard to diseases.
History of the Venice: from the Saturnalia and the Dionysian rites, to the modern Venetian Carnival
It seems that the Venetian Carnival, as we know it today, dates back to 1296, when the Senate of the Serenissima proclaimed the day before Lent a holiday with an edict. From that time the days dedicated to the festivities became more and more numerous, up to six weeks starting from December 26th. The characterizing elements of the feasts were the social equalization and the disguise with the use of masks. Therefore, in reality the Carnival of Venice brought back the traditions of ancient religious festivals, inspired by the Roman Saturnalia during which slaves and free men gathered in unbridled entertainment that subverted the social order, and the Greek Dionysian cults, religious festivals that included the use of masks and costumes to preserve anonymity.
Traditionally the modern Carnival opens with the Flight of the Angel, an ancient tradition known as the Flight of the Columbine, in which a young girl dressed in a sumptuous vintage dress launches herself from the top of the Campanile of Piazza San Marco to land in the crowd cheering in the presence of the Doge. This practice was born by pure chance in the sixteenth century when a young Turkish man, thanks to the use of a barbell, managed to reach the bell tower of the Campanile by walking like a tightrope walker on a rope held in tension by a boat in the San Marco Basin; then descending towards the loggia of Palazzo Ducale where he paid his respects to the Doge. The amazing achievement that involved everyone, renamed "the svolo of Turkish", was imitated by many in the following years, to the point of giving it continuity and making it an official ceremony on Fat Thursday. In these daring tightrope walking the men who tried their hand were usually gifted with large wings, and the feat was renamed "the svolo of the angel". In 1759, however, the performance ended in tragedy with the death of the tightrope walker. It was then that it was decided to replace the acrobat with a wooden dove, which during the descent scattered flowers and confetti on the cheering crowd below: thus the "the svolo della colombina" was established. Today the flight takes place on the first Sunday of the Carnival and marks the beginning of the celebrations. But the wooden dove was, in modern times, replaced by a beautiful girl. Initially the privilege was given to celebrities or illustrious for any reason: just think that from the bell tower flown actresses and models, and in 2008 even the singer Coolio, all not very close to Venice.
But in recent years, since 2011, the task of opening the Carnival belongs to the most beautiful Maria elected during the Carnival of the previous year. This tradition has its roots in an ancient and popular Venetian festival, perhaps dating back as far as 943: this is the Festa delle Marie. At the time, on the occasion of the Feast of the Purification of Mary, 12 couples were blessed who would be married within the year and at the same time as many of the most beautiful girls of the poorest families were drawn to be entrusted to a rich family that would have looked after the girl to lead her to the wedding. In 973, during this rite the brides were kidnapped by Istrian pirates, but the onset of the population allowed their release. The Venetians believed in the intercession of the Madonna and from that moment the Festa delle Marie was established: the twelve chosen girls, embellished with clothes and jewels, in a festive atmosphere that involved the whole city, paraded in a procession of boats on the Grand Canal, because it is considered a good omen to reach the Church of Santa Maria Formosa and pay homage to the Virgin. The party lasted for several days and attracted the attention of foreigners, who came to the city for the occasion. With time the meaning and the feast itself degenerate, to the point that it was abolished after just thirty years. Only in the years of the new century has it been revived and integrated into the Carnival events: on the afternoon of the first Saturday of the holiday period, 12 Venetian girls parade in period costumes to Piazza San Marco, where the next day a jury chooses the most beautiful, which, bearing the title of Mary of the Year, in the following Carnival will represent the angel who, flying from the Campanile of San Marco, will give the official start to the festivities. Thus an ancient popular festival was restored, bringing this tradition back to the parochial level. As it should be.
From 2012 to the Flight of the Angel was added the Flight of the Eagle, which takes place in the same way the following week. The Carnival is instead dismissed with the symbolic Svolo del Leon: on the last day the flag of Venice with the winged lion, symbol of the city, is raised from the Piazza to the Campanile, while the orchestra of La Fenice intones the hymn of San Marco, after having crowned the most beautiful Mary. A sumptuous goodbye for the following year.
Excesses and limitations: from the first bans to the end of the Carnival
Over the centuries the days dedicated to the Carnival were not only an opportunity for freedom and fun, but soon turned into a tasty opportunity for criminals to carry out their brutality, quietly hidden behind a costume and a mask: the combination of anonymity and the darkness of the evening hours favored the commission of crimes of every kind. It is the fourteenth century when the Senate decreed the absolute prohibition of wandering at night hidden behind a mask: that was only the beginning of a series of limitations that led to the disappearance of the Carnival. The ban was then added to go masked in churches, following barbarism perpetrated in places of worship to the detriment of pious women, to the point of being unable to wear cloaks and tabarri under which criminals hid dangerous objects. The prohibitions also concerned prostitutes who, thanks to the disguises of the Carnival days, were able to circumvent the limits imposed by the Republic: the prohibition concerned the impossibility of prostituting oneself in a mask. The prohibition of disguised access soon also involved gambling houses and theaters.
All this series of prohibitions slowly weakened the true, joyful and festive spirit of the Carnival, which seemed to have to deal more with prohibitions than with celebrations of the festival. From there the great Carnival disappeared, also thanks to the French and Austrian dominations first. We are in the nineteenth century and we will have to wait more than a century to see the secular traditional feast restored: it is 1979 when the associations of citizens, together with the Biennale and the Teatro La Fenice, brought the Carnival back to life, now more alive than ever. It took only a few years and returned to being the most beautiful in the world, at least the one that is staged on the most beautiful stage in the world: Venice.
Program of the Venice Carnival today: between modernity and history, technology and traditions
Since then the Carnival has not changed much, even if the period of the festivities is reduced to only 10 days. What has remained unchanged over time is the spirit, that sense of freedom and fun that pervades the whole city, in a sense of belonging and acceptance, of union between citizens and tourists. At Carnevale Venice embraces us with a natural madness and joyful transgression, making us participants and protagonists of an unusual and dreamy, surreal and engaging show, which for a few days or a few hours takes us away from the tight and schematic rhythms of everyday life. At the traditional feast of the Marys and the Volo della Colombina, which maintain a strong bond with the glorious past, the modern Carnival combines the technology of magnificent special effects to give us a wonderful show that can only exist in Venice: the Venetian Festival on the water on the Rio of Cannaregio. On the first Saturday of the long festive period the celebrations are inaugurated with a parade of acrobats, dancers and stage machines in a show of lights and sounds, of water and aerial dance that uses the reflection of the water and the darkness of the evening to give incredible effects: an unmissable show!
The following morning the party continues in the Grand Canal with the parade of allegorical water carts and festively dressed boats.
The sumptuous and exclusive masked balls of the sumptuous palaces and large hotels are flanked by folk festivals and live more than ever scattered in streets and fields: an atmosphere of unrestrained joy, a letting go of the inhibitory brakes surrounded by surreal and curious costumes that is worth worth living at least once in a lifetime.
Weekend in Venice for the Carnival: stay overnight in a typical Venetian house
The celebrations of the Carnival are very long and in these days there are many initiatives, the program of events and manifestations is intense. It becomes difficult to choose which days to stay, but it would be wonderful to experience this at 360 °. And nothing more comfortable than staying in a typical Venetian apartment to feel completely immersed in the joyful atmosphere of the party. A comfortable and independent accommodation, which allows you to live the time of your stay in complete freedom.
If you want to feel like a Venetian for a few days I recommend booking an apartment to feel like a citizen. I advise you to choose one of the beautiful apartments of Venice Heavens Apartments. You can choose from six apartments all located in the heart of the city, which will allow you to experience the real Venice, the authentic one, choosing between the most famous and the most peaceful areas. The apartments San Marco 1 and 2 are just behind the famous square, the Cà Giulia with a splendid terrace on the red roofs of the city is in the heart of the area once inhabited by the Greeks, close to the elegant Riva degli Schiavoni, the Cà Matilde is located in the young part of the city, close to Campo San Stefano, a stone's throw from the Accademia Bridge, while the Biennale 1 and 2 are immersed in the quieter Sestiere Castello, a few meters from the Arsenale, far from the hustle and bustle of the center.
The apartments are all freshly restored, tastefully furnished, in a modern language that leaves significant traces of the typical Venetian style: an original and authentic accommodation. Large and spacious, can accommodate a minimum of 2 people, for young couples, up to a maximum of 8 for those located on the same landing, for larger families.
The Venice Heaven apartments are equipped with all the comforts to make your stay welcoming: from satellite TV and smart TV to follow your favorite TV series of the most popular online platforms, a free wifi service; from the most varied kitchen appliances like microwave, dishwasher, coffee machine for all tastes, espresso and american, fridge and kettles to prepare tea and herbal teas, induction hobs to prepare quiet breakfasts and dinners. The bathroom and the bedrooms are equipped with all the linens you need for your stay, and useful courtesy sets. While on the ground floors you will find a laundry equipped with washing machines and dryers, iron and ironing board, to be impeccable even during the holiday. Climate well-being is assured thanks to the presence of a heating system for winter periods, such as those of the Carnival, and air conditioning for the summer months.
Venice Heaven, the right way to spend a weekend for Venice Carniva in complete freedom, with all the comforts, for a unique and special stay in the heart of the most beautiful city in the world, Venice!