Of Carnival & Venice

Did you ever wonder about the origins of one of the most famous carnivals in the world and about how long it lasted in early times? One week, two months, …? Let’s have a look together at the history of carnival in Venice:

The early beginnings of Carnival can be traced back to the year 1094 (the reign of doge Vitale Falier) when the citizens organized different festivities before the fasting period. About 200 years later (in 1296) the carnival became an official event when the Senate declared the last day before the Lent, thus mardi gras, a public festivity.

Carnevale 2014: Teatro San Marco
Carnevale 2014: Teatro San Marco

Contrary to the carnival today that lasts about 3 weeks, the Venetians once started the carnival festivities on the first Sunday of October to culminate on mardi gras (February/March). This meant nearly half a year of constant partying!

Thus, carnival lasted longer than in other cities and so it’s no wonder that Venetians during carnival season were more interested in partying than in working: Stages were built up alongside the Riva degli Schiavoni, in the campi and on St Mark’s Square, where jugglers, funambulists and acrobats showed their skills. Music filled the streets and hawkers sold fruit, frìtole and other sweets in the calli. A public ball that lasted three days and three nights was organized in the Fondaco dei Tedeschi (once a storehouse, then a post office and today transformed into a commercial center by Benetton): Venetians dressed up as Pantalone, Brighella, Arlecchino or disguised with a simple black coat tabarro and the traditional mask bauta – used this opportunity to enjoy themselves. Furthermore, spectacles like the Volo dell’Angelo „Angel’s Flight“ and the Forze d’Ercole „Labors of Hercules“, where dozens of muscled and well trained men built living towers, took place.

Venezia: Doge & Dogaressa Carnevale 2014
Venezia: Doge & Dogaressa Carnevale 2014

With the fall of the Serenissima at the end of the 18th century the carnival tradition disappeared for nearly 200 years (as the French and Austrian occupation wasn’t really fond of these festivities) and was only resurrected in 1979 to represent today one of the most important events of the year (transmitted in the whole world and sponsored by multinational companies).