Venice Carnival nowadays

A guide to the Venice Carnival Festival, its historical re-enactments and extraordinary new elements

The Venice Carnival Festival is one of the most anticipated events of the year. The Venice Carnival location is in St Mark’s Square in Venice and it’s an extraordinary time dedicated to enjoyment involving thousands of tourists and Venetians themselves.

As a Venice Carnival guide it is a combination of performances, masks, confetti... Without forgetting the charming traditional festivities of Carnival that bring to life the magic of Carnival and give its origins and traditions - which were lost in time - a fascinating modern interpretation.

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After nearly two hundred years, the Venice Carnival in Italywas brought back to life in the late seventies returning immediately to play a major role in the panorama of Italian and European festivals. Full of charm and tradition, the Venice Carnival in its modern form rediscovered the magic of an ancient festival which for centuries has inspired this amazing city. During the Carnival, St Mark’s Square in Venice and many areas are full of initiatives and performances, some improvised by street artists, others planned by the organizers of the Carnival of Venice, new and original events that transport Venice into a surreal dimension.

Since the early eighties, the Venice Carnival facts are the same: each year there is a central theme that becomes the main theme of the program. From those on journeys and the meeting of different cultures - with interesting results thanks to the partnership with Naples (1982) and Paris (1984) – through the discovery of poorly understood cultures, such as Eastern ones (1994/2004/2006), to the carnival dedicated to great figures such as Casanova (1998) and Fellini (2003), the themes of the Carnival of Venice form the basis for the organization of the entire event.

The heart of the Venice Carnival location is nowadays represented in St Mark’s Square with its huge stage, although many events take place in other areas to animate the entire city. During the celebrations of the Venice Carnival traditions and its ancient origins survive in a combination of historical re-enactments and masks, which invade Venice to have fun and get noticed. Spontaneous parades liven up the city, sounds, dancing and lots of music allows tourists and inhabitants to rediscover the origins of the celebration of Carnival in Venice, creating a very popular event for the perfect combination of transgression, art, history and culture. Carnival masks and costumes, ranging from traditional to modern experiments in creativity, bring Venice in a timeless dimension where you can see silent and impenetrable ladies of the eighteenth century parade alongside elaborate and creative modern costumes.

The Festa delle Marie at the Venice Carnival in Italy

The origin of the Festa delle Marie in Venice is somewhat controversial: probably introduced in the ninth century, the first sound records of the celebration start in 1039. On 2 February, the day of the Purification of Mary, Venice held the tradition to celebrate the blessing of weddings in the Basilica of San Pietro di Castello, the ancient cathedral of Venice. On the same day the weddings of twelve girls chosen from among the poorest and most beautiful in the city would take place, who received their dowry as a gift from the wealthy patricians of Venice. After the lavish wedding, the brides marched towards St Mark’s Square, where they received the homage of the Doge and attended the banquet to then embark the Bucintoro and follow the Grand Canal to the Church of Santa Maria Formosa for other celebrations. In 943 the feast was interrupted by Istrian pirates who kidnapped the brides and their rich dowry. The inhabitants of Venice reacted immediately reaching and killing the pirates near Caorle, freeing the girls and their rich dowry.

To commemorate this victory, the Festa delle Marie became an annual event. Twelve beautiful girls, renamed Marie (perhaps because many of the abducted girls were called Mary or due to the name of the feast of the Purification of Mary) were richly dressed to parade on a boat through Venice and take part in religious services, dances, music and refreshments organized by the inhabitants of Venice. To contain the huge costs that the Festa delle Marie caused, in 1272 the number of brides was reduced and, as a result of other changes that undermined the spirit of the feast, it was finally abolished in 1379. In 1999, the festival was revived as a historical re-enactment in the Venice Carnival festival: the brides are now part of the modern celebrations, with the election, on the last day, of the Maria of the Year.


The history of the Flight of the Dove in Venice

In the mid-1500s, during the Carnival celebrations, a Turkish acrobat managed to get to the belfry of the St Mark bell tower from a boat anchored on the pier, walking only with the aid of a barbell on a rope. On the way down, he reached the balcony of the Doge’s Palace to pay homage to the Doge. This incredible feat, called Flight of the Turkish and initially held on Shrove Thursday, soon became the official ceremony for the opening of the Carnival of Venice. For many years only professional acrobats performed it, but soon it came to be seen by many young people as a show of skill and bravery.

The Flight of the Angel in Venice comes from a variation of this acrobatic show: a man with wings hung from a rope with rings and was lowered at great speed. During the descent, in the gallery of the Doge’s Palace, 'the angel' received from the hands of the Doge gifts or money. In some editions of the Venice Carnival festival, traditions diversified and animals, boats and other figures were used for the Flight of the Angel, in addition to trying bold evolutions and collective flights. After the tragedy of 1759, when the acrobat crashed into a horrified crowd, the Flight of the Angel turned into the Flight of the Dove. In the Carnival of Venice the Flight of the Dove replaces the human element with a large wooden dove that, descending from the bell tower of San Marco, shed flowers and confetti on the crowd.

The event has been resumed in Venice Carnival modern form, and is one of the Venice Carnival traditions that start the celebrations.

Shrove Thursday tradition in Venice


Shrove Thursday, in the modern Carnival, commemorates the victory of the Republic of Venice over the patriarch Ulrich. Taking advantage of the war between Venice, Padua and Ferrara, Ulrich attacked the City of Grado forcing the Patriarch of Venice to flee. To repair the outrage, the Doge Vitale Michiel II sailed with his fleet to Grado, ending the aims of Ulrich and the rebelling feudal lords. As compensation Venice asked that each year the Patriarch of Aquileia sent a bull and twelve pigs, during Shrove Thursday. After the installation of a parody where bull and pigs interpreted the rebels, the animals were slaughtered for the inhabitants of Venice. From 1420, the year in which Friuli came under the rule of Venice, the feast remained in existence as one of the traditions of Shrove Thursday.

Venice: St Mark’s Square Carnival

In Venice's St. Mark's Square, the Venice Carnival Festival is expressed at 360 °. Many performances also take place in the Grand Theatre, which has become one of the highlights of the festivities. The Grand Theatre of St. Mark's Square is the perfect combination between Venice and the Carnival, a big stage where tradition and innovation come together in total harmony. A renowned catwalk where masks from all over the world parade, the Grand Theatre of St. Mark's Square offers the typical entertainment of the Venice Carnival, a program that varies from year to year with dancing, parties, pre-evening entertainment and DJ sets that get St Mark’s Square rocking.

By Insidecom Editorial Staff