Venice Carnival Brings Out the Masks, Regattas and Revelry
Posted February 4, 2018 5:00 p.m. EST
In Venice, Italy, it is that time again.
Time for grand costume balls, fierce mask contests, towering wigs and a parade of preening, strutting revelers as city residents and visitors from around the world take part in its annual carnival.
The season technically began Jan. 27 with the Flight of the Angel, a ritual dating to the 1500s, and an opening regatta. Others will follow, and the season will end on Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday or Martedì Grasso), the day before Ash Wednesday.
The theme this year, “Creatum: Civitas Ludens,” evokes the spirit of fun and play during carnival.
Throngs of visitors from places like South Korea and the United States have already arrived for the festivities, but the pre-Lenten festival is celebrated throughout Italy.
For those who can afford it, the de rigueur costumes echo themes of 17th- and 18th-century nobility. But masks of all kinds flood the streets.
On Saturday, the Festa delle Maria, or parade of the Marias, unfolded. Traditionally, 12 young women were chosen to represent the city, commemorating the rescue of Venetian brides-to-be from pirates centuries ago.
On Sunday, a masked eagle will descend from St. Mark’s bell tower. The weekly descents are among the carnival’s most popular attractions, but for security reasons, participants in the square this year have been capped at 20,000.
Every day, there will be a competition for the most beautiful mask. The tradition of the mask started in the 13th century, when Venetians held parties before the start of Lent and wore elaborate masks to conceal their identity.
These parties were said to be the only time when aristocrats and peasants, disguised by their masks, played out their fantasies together.
They indulged in illicit activities like gambling, clandestine affairs and political assassinations. By the 18th century, masks were banned outside during carnival time because they were abused by Venetian gamblers and prostitutes seeking anonymity.
The grand finale is Feb. 13, when a lion will take flight. (Not really.)