Carnival is celebrated differently everywhere on the planet. Among the most famous and distinct carnivals is the Venice carnival (or carnevale in Italian). It’s all about dressing up in period costume and going to a ball, but the carnival in Venice is best known for its beautiful masks.
Venice carnival masks
Wearing elaborate masks has been a tradition since the Venice carnival started in the 12th century. They are traditionally made from leather, porcelain or using an old glass technique, but the masks you see nowadays are mostly made from papier-maché or, if you buy a cheap tourist mask, from cardboard or plastic.
Disguising oneself with masks and costumes enabled people to completely hide their identity and therefore eliminating all differences concerning social class, gender, religion et cetera. People could party on an equal basis.
High prices, budget options
With tickets for the cheapest balls starting at around 125 euros, but full ticket prices normally costing 650 euros or more, the Venice carnival in the 21st century is not for everyone. Adding a few hundred euros for buying or renting a costume – as a dress code applies at the balls – and hotels hiking up their prices, the costs of visiting the Venice carnival can add up considerably.
But even without shelling out for an expensive ball and costume, there’s enough fun to be had at the Venice carnival – if you can stand the crowds that is. Carnival is about the busiest time of the year in Venice with visitors worming themselves through the narrow streets and alleyways between the Rialto bridge and the Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s square).
If you want to get into the thick of things for free there are also plenty of activities to attend to. But they tend to be very crowded. When we got to the Piazza San Marco for the Eagle Flight – which takes place on the last Sunday before lent – there were so many people (despite it raining) we decided to skip it.
Best of all is to see party-goers showing off their outfits – many of them seemed to be from France –, some of them competing in the best costume contest that takes place during the weekends. Parading through the streets or posing around the Piazza San Marco or along the waterline with the island of San Giorgio as a backdrop, most are willing to have their pictures taken – for some it’s their goal to be photographed.
With many people wanting to take pictures it can get a little too much at times but there are some locations where it’s more quiet and relaxed to let your creativity go. Some people dress up for a photoshoot and go to small alleys and squares away from Piazza San Marco, for example to the Basilica de Santa Maria, or take the boat to San Giorgio. If you don’t interfere with the photographer’s work they won’t mind you ‘stealing’ some pictures as well. On this page you’ll find about 80 pictures (we couldn’t choose and we have many more…)
When to go
Since a few years activities are spread out over three weekends, but the Venice carnival really starts with the Angel’s Flight (Volo dell’Angelo, when a beauty pageant winner gets to ride a zipline from the San Marco campanile) in the second weekend. The second and third weekend seem to be equally busy, with the calendar of activities about the same. During the week not much is going on. We visited the third weekend and it was very, very busy.
More information about the Venice carnival, balls and the full calendar of activities (which is only published a few weeks in advance) you can find at the following websites: http://www.carnevale.venezia.it (the official website), http://www.carnevale-venezia.com and http://www.venice-carnival-italy.com.
Going to Venice? Then you can also read our post about Venice: Venice, the good and the bad
And now for the rest of the pictures.