The masquerade festival in Venice, also know as "Carnevale," takes place every year in the northeast Italian city and attracts thousands of visitors from across the globe who want to partake in the festivities. During Carnevale, the streets of Venice teem with costumed celebrators, live music, special exhibitions, parades, dance parties, and food- and wine-tastings.
Carnevale, which was initially celebrated throughout Italy and not just Venice, began in the 15th century and was rooted in Roman Catholicism. Carnevale originally took place on December 26th and lasted through Ash Wednesday. According to the travel website Europe For Visitors (europeforvisitors.com), the term "Carnevale" translates from Latin to "farewell to meat," suggesting Catholic celebrators' farewell to meats and other indulgences in the week leading up to Easter. During Carnevale, all classes of revelers, from royalty to slaves, wore masks to hide their identities.
Today, the Carnevale di Venezia is held for two weeks every February, usually beginning two weeks before Ash Wednesday and concluding on Shrove Tuesday, also known as Fat Tuesday. Dates are approximate and can change slightly, so check Carnevale's official website (carnevale.venezia.it) for updated information. Depending on how you're celebrating, festivities are held all day and well into the night. Formal costume balls, which are common during Carnevale, usually begin in the early evening and can extend into the early morning of the following day.
It is expected to celebrate in costume during Carnevale. Costumes can include long velvet robes, medieval shrouds and leather boots for men, and intricately crafted 15th century dresses with dramatic hoop skirts for women. Many outfits are rich in detail, embroidery and fabric choice, such as velvets and silks. One of the most important pieces of costume during Carnevale is a mask, so come prepared, or purchase one at one of the many mask shops in Venice. Popular mask styles include the "Bauta," "Moretta" and "Larva."
It is not uncommon for most hotels in Venice to reach capacity before and during the masquerade festival, so make travel arrangements early and book a hotel well in advance. Europe For Visitors recommends not staying outside of the city, since commuting can take longer than normal due to the crowds. Also, routes into Venice from the mainland may be blocked by police to dissuade overcrowding. Hotel rates and apartment rents can increase dramatically during the festival, so inquire early about specials or rate cuts.
- Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images