In less than two weeks’ time, Venice will again be transformed into one huge magical setting. People from all over the world will dress up like centuries ago. They will relive the period of La Serenissima and the old Venetian traditions.
The Carnevale di Venezia 2017 (Venice Carnival) takes place from February 11 until February 28, 2017. The first weekend is mainly attended by locals, but the Festa Veneziana is certainly worth a trip. The majority of the Carnival festivities starts on February 18 with the Festa delle Marie.
In this post, I will give you an overview of the different activities that take place all over the city. In the second article of this post (Glamorous masks and costumes at Carnevale di Venezia), I will give you some background on the masks and costumes, as well as tips on how to prepare yourself with a traditional Venetian mask and costume. If you are interested in the historical background of the Carnival events, you can find these in my post ‘The insider’s guide to Carnevale di Venezia’.
The 2018 Carnevale di Venezia will take place from January 27 until February 13. If you want to be amongst the first to know about the program, you can subscribe to our biweekly newsletter.
Carnevale di Venezia 2017: ‘Creatum: Vanity Af-fair’
Marco Maccapani is the artistic director of the Carnevale di Venezia 2017. The theme ‘Creatum: Vanity Af-fair’ is a continuation of the ‘Creatum’ theme of last year. The subtitle refers to the vanity of the participants who dress up to impress and parade, and who change personality depending on the costume they are wearing. It also hints to the continuous stream of posing for pictures, either for photographers or for selfies.
There are plenty of activities organized by the official Carnevale team, as well as by local organizations or musea. This year, the events have been extended to ‘terraferma’, the area around Venice such as Mestre and Marghera. The evening shows at the Arsenale, which were organized for the first time last year, will unfortunately not take place this year. There will however be carnival parties for the young-at-heart at the Arsenale. I list below the most important activities, but make sure to check the offical website of Carnevale di Venezia or of Venezia Unica for an up-to-date and detailed overview. There will also be commedia dell’arte shows, concerts, a DJ set, theatre and much more. It is however too much to list all of it here.
Festa Veneziana (February 11-12)
The Festa Veneziana is the official opening of the Carnival and takes place in the Cannaregio district. (If you want to know more about this area, you can read my post ‘Cannaregio: A walk along artisans and history’). On Saturday evening (at 6 PM and at 8 PM), a magical show with impressive colours, dancers and acrobats takes place on the Rio di Cannaregio. Take a look at the video of last year’s show and you will understand why this weekend should not be missed on your agenda.
This year’s show is called ‘La Vanità degli Abissi, La Regina del Mare riaffiora a Venezia per specchiarsi nella Luna’. Based on the title, you can expect a fairytail of vanity with the queen of the sea bringing a tribute to the moon and Venice. The show will be performed by the Italian company Corona Events. This international performing group was founded in 2006 by Roberto Corona. The dancers, dancers on stilts, actors, acrobats, musicians and singers are specialized in live events and have been performing all over Europe. They have already participated to the Venice Carnival in 2014. If you are curious to find out how the show might look like, take a look at the videos of former events on their website. It certainly looks amazing.
On Sunday, many Venetians will dress up and sail along the Canal Grande to Cannaregio. The huge boat parade is accompanied by music and starts around noon. You can taste the traditional delicacies (such as ‘sarde in soar’ (fried sardines in a sweet-and-sour onion gravy), ‘bigoli in salsa’ (pasta served with an anchovy and onion sauce) and ‘fritole’) at the eno-gastronomic stalls while you enjoy the boats passing by.
Teatro La Fenice: Gina and La Bohème (February 10 – March 2)
Teatro La Fenice is always closely involved in all the carnival activities. This special relationship is due to the fact that they were one of the Venetian associations who decided to revive the carnival in 1979. (If you want to know more about the history of carnival in Venice, you can read about it in my article ‘The insider’s guide to Carnevale di Venezia‘.) This year, La Fenice will not only design and build the stage on San Marco. They have also created a special opera Gina, which will play at Teatro Malibran. This very first opera by Francesco Cilea tells the story of a promised marriage, mistaken identity and solidarity between brothers-in arms and a lost ring that is found. If you prefer a more traditional opera, La Bohème, the opera composed by Giacomo Puccini, has also been selected especially for this festive period. You can watch it at Teatro La Fenice.
Vanity Af-fair at Piazza San Marco (February 18-28)
The heart of the carnival will be on Piazza San Marco, where the Venetian artisans will be celebrated on a beautiful stage designed by Massimo Checchetto, designer of Teatro La Fenice. Each day, between 11 AM and 5 PM, different types of artisans will create their artistic pieces in front of the public. The spotlight of this year’s edition will be on Venetian tissues and on woodworking.
Seven artisans have been honoured to represent their art: Atelier Pietro Longhi (costumes), Venice Textile (tissues), Politecnico Calzaturiero (shoes), Compagnia d’Arte dei Mascareri (masks) , Consorzio Promovetro Murano (glass), Corsorzio dei Tajapiera restauratori Veneziani and the Associazone El Felce (wood). The most intriguing part will most likely be the restoration in the middle of the square of the Dogaressa, the boat that carried Pope Ratzinger in 2011, by the local carpenters. This part of Carnevale is a strong statement for the importance of artisans in the city, not only in the past but still today. I expect it to be very impressive.
Every evening, from 5 PM until 8 PM, the San Marco square will be transformed into a musical area, with a dj and live music.
Festa delle Marie (February 18, 28)
The Marie represent the 12 poor Venetian girls, who would receive a bridal dowry of the Venetian Doge in 973, but were kidnapped by pirates. The parade is a commemoration to thank the Virgin Mary for her help in rescuing these girls. The 12 Marie will be carefully selected in the weeks prior to the event. The competition is only open for Venetian girls between 18 and 28.
The parade on February 18 starts at 2.45 PM from San Pietro in Castello and follows Via Garibaldi and Riva degli Schiavoni to reach San Marco at 4.00 PM. When the parade enters the stage, the different ‘actors’ (such as the Doge but also visiting re-enactment groups from neighbouring cities) are announced by a speaker.
Before the crowning of the winning Marie on February 28, the Marie also attend the majority of the official Carnevale activities. They are dressed by Atelier Pietro Longhi, which I mentioned in the article on masks and costumes, with fabrics by Rubelli, a famous Venetian fabrics producer.
The Best Masked Costume Contest (February 18-28)
During the whole Carnival period, everyone can participate in the contest for the best masked costume. Every day at 11 AM and 3 PM, the candidates parade on the San Marco square in front of the jury, who selects at the end the best costume. Many participants come from abroad to take part in this event. The winners of last year were ‘I bagnanti di senigallia’ (Anna and Lorenzo Marconi). The participants that were the most pertinent to the theme of Carnival were ‘I carretti siciliani’ (Salvatori Occhipinti and Gugliemo Miceli). The final award ceremony is on February 26 at 14.30. On February 27, there are two parades for children.
The daily contests start around noon. If you would like to take pictures of the beautiful costumes and masks, the best time is from noon till late afternoon. The participants parade in the San Marco area for a couple of hours to have their pictures taken, so there’s no need to be close to the stage. On the contrary, you might even be better off at Caffé Florian, below the arcades of the Palazzo Ducale, on the Riva degli Schiavoni, or on the Campo San Zaccaria. You will then be able to photograph the costume in a beautiful setting, and with some luck without (many) spectators.
To participate to the contest, you have to download the form from the official website and follow the instructions. Good luck! For some inspiration on beautiful costumes, I advise you to browse through the picture book ‘The Magic of Venice’.
The Gallery of Wonders (February 18-28)
If you would like to dress up and take part in a real Carnival ball, this is the official event organized by the Carnevale team together with Atelier Pietro Longhi. It takes place in the prestigious environment of Ca’ Vendramin Calergi. It’s a combination of a dinner, performances at the tables and shows. Whereas most of the other events I mention are free, this one comes at a price (400 euros per person). However, I can imagine it will be a unique experience.
There are also plenty of other balls taking place during Carnevale (such as the Casanova Ball supported by the Marega Atelier – more information in the article on masks and costumes). I haven’t attended any of these yet, so I have no clue which ones are worth the price or not. I guess it really depends on what you expect.
Carnevale dei Ragazzi (February 18-26)
Celebrating carnival is not only for adults, but starts at a very young age in Venice. You will see some theatres for children across the city, but the best example is the Kid’s Carnival in Giardini. The time of this year is ‘The Playrooms’. In the central pavilion of the Biennale, children (often school groups) get creative and learn to make their own masks and costumes. Even if you don’t take your children, it’s very entertaining to spend some time there. It allows you to get away from the crowds, while you are still enjoying Carnival with the locals.
Volo dell’Angelo (February 19)
The Flight of the Angel is often considered as the official start of the Carnival, as it is widely broadcast on television. The Angel ‘flies’ at noon from the Campanile above the crowds to the stage in the middle of the San Marco square, where she is greeted by the Doge and the 12 Marie. The Angel of the year is the winning Marie of the year before. This year, it will be Claudia Marchiori. She will be dressed by Stefano Nicolao.
This tradition goes back to the mid-16th century, when a young Turkish acrobat spectacularly succeeded in walking up to the Campanile via a long rope attached to his boat at the riva. On his descent, he stopped at the balcony of the Palazzo Ducale to honour the Doge.
Regata Sprint di Carnevale (February 19)
For the first time, a regata with 9 caorline boats will be organized for carnival. The teams will be composed of men, women and children. They will race from Ca’ Vendramin Calergi to Rialto. The race starts at 2.30 PM.
Ballata delle Maschere con Il Taglio della Testa al Toro (February 23)
The ballad of the masks with the beheading of the bull is a more recent event, which takes place for the third time. It is organized by the association ‘L’Arte dei Mascareri’. It refers to the legend of ‘giovedì grasso’ (mardi gras). This celebrates the victory against the Patriarch Ulrico of Aquileia and his twelve rebel lords in 1162. To remember the attempting rebellion, every year the successors of Ulrico must send a bull, twelve breads and twelve pigs to the Doge of Venice. The bull is a symbol for the Patriarch and the pigs for the lords. They were shown to the people on the San Marco square, mocked and then the bull was beheaded. The parade starts at 2.30 PM at San Giacometto (Rialto) and ends at the San Marco square, where the bull (not a real one, in case you wonder) will be beheaded.
Me Anzoleto (February 23-24)
The Casa Goldoni hosts this contemporary Goldoni show, directed by Mattia Berto. It is a unique opportunity to visit the house where Goldoni was born on February 25, 1707 to see one of his plays. Ca’ Centani was built in the 15th century and is a typical Gothic palace. It became a museum and a centre for theatre studies in 1953.
DID YOU KNOW? Carlo Goldoni is an Italian playwright and the founder of Italian realistic comedy. He replaced the masked figures from the commedia dell’arte with more realistic characters and he insisted on more structure in the plays with for instance clearly defined roles and written texts.
Volo dell’Aquila (February 26)
Similar to the Flight of the Angel, the Eagle also flies from the Campanile to the San Marco stage. Last year, Saturnino, the most famous Italian bass player, played music during his descent. This year, the honour goes to Melissa Sata, an Italian model and television presenter. She will be dressed by Atelier Pietro Longhi. The flight is planned at 12 o’clock.
Cioccolata (February 27)
The Atelier Pietro Longhi organizes a dancing chocolate at the Ca’ Vendramin Calergi. At this typical Venetian event, the guests enjoy hot chocolate and Venetian biscuits in a festive atmosphere. If you don’t want to go for a full-blown dinner party, this might be the perfect solution for you. You can expect to see some of the most stunning costumes, so make sure you dress accordingly.
Svolo del Leone (February 28)
The final activity of the Carnival is the flight of the Lion of San Marco, painted on a large canvas. The 12 Marie and the Doge will salute the flag, which is pulled up from the square to the top of the Campanile. It starts at 5 PM, after the award ceremony for the winner of the Festa delle Marie.
The program of Carnevale should now be more or less complete. I will continue to update the list of activities if more information would become available. If you want to be up-to-date, you can either bookmark this page and check it regularly or subscribe to the biweekly newsletter.
Carnival is almost a synonym of Venice. I can guarantee that you will enjoy your time in the city. However, you should be aware that it will be very crowded at this 2017 edition. Based on the number of visitors of previous years, you could expect that approx. 1.5 million visitors will attend the Carnival in Venice! Don’t expect that you will be the only one wanting to take a picture or to have the best spot. Just enjoy the atmosphere and if it really gets too much, just move a couple of streets further and relax with a spritz or a coffee.
Now that you know where to go and what to do, it’s time to choose your mask and costume. Follow the link to continue reading the second part of this article (Gorgeous masks and costumes at Carnevale di Venezia 2017). It will not only give you some background on the required attire, but also where to buy or rent your costume.
If you want to have inspiration for other activities during your visit, why not book a personalized Venice Insider Program? It would be a pity to limit your time in Venice to the area around San Marco.
Buongiorno Siora Maschera!
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