Carnival Venice History

Origins of Venetian Carnival

The Carnival Venice history has ancient history when the Doge Vitale Falier evokes it in a document of 1094 – when the government of the Serenissima gave to the humblest classes of the population a short period of fun and festivities. However, the first official document of 1296 issued by the Senate of the Republic, declared the Carnival of Venice a public holiday with the festive day before Lent. At the time, the Carnival was celebrated for six weeks (from December 26th to Ash Wednesday) although celebrations started beginning October. Thanks to the anonymity guaranteed by the masks and costumes, there was an equivalence between all social social classes, gender and religion – as well as it was even authorized to mock the public authorities and the aristocracy.

Probably, these permission was allowed by the austere Republic of Venice which placed limits and restrictions as morality and public order of its citizens. Everyone was free to assume the behaviors according to the costume wearing, in fact, the greeting constantly echoing in the act of meeting a new mask was “buongiorno signora maschera” (hello lady mask).

With the increasingly widespread habit of dressing up for carnival, in town originated a real trade in masks and costumes. Since 1271, there are news about the production of masks, schools and techniques for their making. In this period began the realization of the first tools for the working materials such as clay, papier mache, plaster and gauze. After the models production phase, the works were embellished and enhanced with drawings, embroideries, beads, feathers and anything else from the “mascareri” who became even more skilled artisans.

Carnival Venice History with the most famous masks

Since the eighteenth century, one of the most common camouflage custom still present in our days, was the Baùta. A purely Venetian figure worn by both sexes and consisted of a white mask called “larva” under a cocked hat and rifinished by a large dark cloak called “tabarro”. The Baùta, apart from being widely used in Carnival, was also employed for the theater or for loving affair guaranteeing the total anonymity.

Other typical costumes was the “Gnaga” which was used by men to look like a woman. It was easy to make it and made up of feminine clothing; a mask with a cat’s appearance and a basket on his arm that usually contained a kitten. Women wore a camouflage called “Moretta” consisted of a black velvet mask worn with a hat and refined clothes. Another characteristic mask is “Pantalone” whose name comes from San Pantalone, one of the most venerated Saints of the city. Throughout the period of Carnival there was a slowdown of the various activities in order to devote more space to celebrations, jokes, entertainment and events set up in Piazza San Marco, Riva degli Schiavoni and in all major areas of the city with attractions of jugglers, acrobats, musicians and dancers. Ascribed to this epoch, the adventures of the atypical Venetian writer Giacomo Casanova, considered to be the greatest exponent of seduction.

The beautiful Festa delle Marie

 The Festa delle Marie began in 1039 but was probably introduced in the year 943. On the 2nd February, the day of the purification of the Virgin, was a custom to celebrate the blessing of the poorest and most beautiful brides in the city at the Basilica of San Pietro di Castello. The wealthy patrician families of Venice were devoted to the giving of the dowry to the brides and, the Doge, lent prestigious jewels and gold coming from the treasury of the city. Subsequently, there were accompanied in procession to the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s residence) where they received the homage of the Doge and embarked on the Bucintoro (galley of State) that sailed through the Grand Canal and Rialto reaching the church of Santa Maria Formosa for the solemn celebrations.

Festa delle Marie was suppressed in 1379 during the war between Venice and Chioggia. It was officially reintroduced in 1999. The edition of Volo dell’Angelo or della Colombina began in 1500 when a young Turkish acrobat succeeded with the help of a barbell to get to the bell-tower of Saint Mark walking on a long rope. Initially, this action was called “svolo del Turco” whose name was kept for many years when, subsequently, was tried by some young Venetians. Several years ago, a man with wings was harnessed with rings to the rope and let him down to it; hence was coined the phrase “Volo dell’Angelo” (flying Angel).

Due to the increasing importance of Carnival, around the year 1500, there was the opening of many theaters and, in 1600, there was the birth of a great number of theatrical troupes made up of professional artists with an influential development of theatre comedy and arts that over the time became even more refined. The definition of art comedy was born in Venice around 1750 – introduced by the playwright and librettist Carlo Goldoni. With the passing of the years, the authorities introduced several decrees and heavy penalties for the fraudulent use of disguises especially at night when the greatest crimes were committed. On 22/02/1339, was totally banned the use of masks around the city. With the French occupation of Napoleon and the fall of the Venetian Government in 1797, was declared the permanent ban masquerades except for private parties in palaces and Ballo della Cavalchina at Teatro La Fenice.

Only in 1979, the Carnival was rehabilitated thanks to the efforts of some citizens associations, the contribution of the Municipality of Venice, Teatro la Fenice, the Venice Biennale and other tourist bodies. Just after few editions, it has become an extremely important event for the city of Venice and for all those tourists around the world that each year come over.