Which events can you attend at the Venice Carnival?
Festa Veneziana – Piazza San Marco – Festa delle Marie – Best Masked Costume Competition – Carnevale dei Ragazzi – Volo dell’Angelo – Ballata delle Maschere – Fresch.In Festival – Nicoletti e Castellani – Arsenale Carnival Experience – Regata Sprint di Carnevale – Volo dell’Aquila – Svolo del Leone – Balls
Carnevale di Venezia 2018: Creatum – Civitas Ludens
The 2018 Venice Carnival runs from January 27 until February 13. For this edition, the city of Venice will be transformed in a huge circus. This is inspired by the movie ‘La Strada’ of Fellini. The impressive stage on San Marco will be built by the scenographers from Teatro La Fenice. The artistic director of the third edition of Creatum is again Marco Maccapani.
New initiatives include a fight between ‘nicolotti’ and ‘castellani, two rivalling neighbourhoods in Venice at the time of La Serenissima, and three regatas. You can find more information on these in the overview below. There are also several events for children and students. The Carnevale events are not limited to Venice itself, but also take place in Burano, Lido, Mestre and Marghera.
There are many organized activities, such as the ones listed below. You can also continuously admire the fabulous costumes and Venetian masks all across the San Marco sestiere, where Venetians and tourists parade all day in their costume.
The origins of the Venice Carnival date back a very long time, but it is not one hundred percent clear when this would have been. Most sources mention 1162 when Venice celebrated the victory against the Patriarch of Aquileia, while other sources claim that the Doge Vitale Falier (the chief magistrate in the former republic of Venice) and the government of la Serenissima allowed the poor people already in 1094 to enjoy a short period of fun and festivities. Over time, the event has appeared and disappeared, and the festival and the use of masks even became strictly forbidden in 1797 under the rule of the King of Austria. It reappeared gradually in the nineteenth century, but only for short periods and mainly for private parties. It was only since 1979 that the event became organized in the current way. At that time, the government and some Venetian associations (such as Teatro La Fenice, the Venice Biennale and other tourist organizations) decided to revive the history and culture of Venice.
The festivities of the Venice Carnival could be considered as a series of historical re-enactments and celebrations. This makes it totally different from other well-known carnivals such as the ones in Brazil and in Germany.
The Festa Veneziana
January 27 – 28, 2018
The opening activities in the first weekend of the Carnival are mainly attended by locals and take place in the Cannaregio sestiere. The official start is on Saturday at 6 PM with ‘VeCircOnda’ a big show on the Rio di Cannaregio. The performance with acrobats and music on the water is always very impressive. The Italian company Wavents, founded by the Venetian Massimo Andreoli and Gabriele Bonvicini, organizes the event. It is repeated a second time at 8 PM.
Sunday starts with the first regata of the Carnevale, i.e. the Regata delle Columbine. The women will be rowing on the Rio di Cannaregio in gondolini. The race starts at 10.30. It is followed by a historical water parade of decorated boats (corteo storico di imbarcazioni addobbate). The parade starts near the Rialto bridge around 11 AM and will arrive at the Cannaregio district around 12 o’clock. You can join the entertainment (which starts at 11 AM) and try some typical Venetian food, 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’. It is certainly worthwhile to attend these events if you’re in Venice or even to go a few days earlier than planned.
Piazza San Marco
February 3 – 13, 2018
The San Marco square will be transformed into a huge circus thanks to the beautiful scenery of La Fenice. It is the main location for all carnival activities, such as the costume parades. Similar to the previous Creatum editions, local artisans will be creating their art in ‘la bottega’, a workshop on the square. You can watch how masks, shoes or tissues are made in a traditional way. If you would like to buy some of these, you can also visit the ‘Mercata delle Maschere e dei costumi veneziani’ on the Campo Santo Stefano.
Every evening, from 5 PM until 9 PM, you can enjoy live music and a DJ set.
Festa delle Marie
February 3, 2018
The parade of the Marie refers to the Purification of Mary, which was the day when all marriages were blessed. At the same time, the Venetian Doge offered magnificent jewels as a bridal dowry to 12 poor Venetian girls. However, in 973, pirates kidnapped the 12 Marie and their jewellery during the ceremony. The parade is a commemoration to thank the Virgin Mary for her help in rescuing these girls.
DID YOU KNOW? The word “marionette” is derived from this Venetian tradition. At one point in time, the city decided to cut costs and use wooden dolls to represent the Marie in the parade, so they could save on the dowries. These dolls were called Marie di legno or Marione. They were later reproduced in smaller sizes and named marionettes.
The parade 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 carnival groups from neighbouring cities) are announced by a speaker.
TIP: There is no need to be close to the stage to enjoy this event. You could wait for the parade in front of the basilica, so you can take pictures of the Marie with the basilica in the background. Alternatively, you could watch the parade on the riva in Castello where it will be less crowded.
The award ceremony for the winner of the Festa delle Marie will take place during the last weekend of Carnevale at 4.30 PM on the San Marco stage, where the 12 girls will arrive by boat, leaving from Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio.
Best Masked Costume Competition
February 3 – 11, 2018
As soon as you get to the San Marco sestiere, you will be overwhelmed by thousands of beautiful masks and costumes (more info in my post ‘Glamourous masks and costumes at Carnevale di Venezia’). It is impossible not to stand still every now and then and admire the fine details. I can’t even imagine how much time it must take to create some of these costumes. Every day, there is the possibility to take part in the best masked costume competition, which is open for everyone. All participants parade on the San Marco stage. On the last day of Carnival, the winner is announced. Even though most of the participants are very willing to have their pictures taken when they stroll around the square or on the Riva degli Schiavoni, it is almost impossible to take a picture of a costume without someone photobombing it!
TIP: Go to Campo San Zaccaria to take your best pictures. The pink stones of the church add a special Venetian touch to the costumes. There are always people hanging around there to be photographed and there is enough space to freely move around. A second option is on the Fond. de l’Osmarin, where they pose on the small bridge. A last alternative for typical Venetian pictures is to (try to) get a seat at Caffé Florian. Participants often go there as well, so you will be able to photograph in a very typical setting.
Carnevale dei Ragazzi
February 3 – 11, 2018
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 you can also attend the activities at Ca’Giustinian, the headquarters 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.
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection also organizes carnival related workshops for children on January 28, February 4 and 11. Upfront reservation is required.
February 4, 2018
The flight of the Angel is often considered as the official opening of Carnevale and is broadcast on television. It goes back to the mid-sixteenth 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. The event was repeated in different variations in the following years and called the Flight of the Turk, until it finally ended in tragedy in 1759 when one of the acrobats fell to the ground and died. The event was forbidden, but restarted later with the descent of a wooden dove scattering flowers over the crowds. The name changed to Flight of the Dove.
Then again, in 2001, the event changed to the Flight of the Angel, with a girl (an actress or model) performing the historical act of the Turk and flying from the Campanile to the stage where she is greeted by the Doge. Since 2011, the Angel is the winner of the Festa delle Marie from the previous year. This year, the honour goes to Elisa Costantini. Her dress will be designed by Atelier Stefano Nicolao.
TIP: This is a very popular event and one of the times you have to reconcile yourself to the fact that you will have to be there a (few) hours in advance in order to get a good view (you have to be able to see the side of the Campanile and the stage). It is a bit boring as there isn’t much to do when you can’t move, but it’s certainly worth it. The good thing is that you will have enough time to set your camera and test it before she jumps at 12 o’clock.
Ballata delle Maschere con Il Taglio della Testa al Toro
February 8, 2018
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 3 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.
February 8 – 10, 2018
Nicoletti e Castellani
February 9, 2018
One of the new events of this year is the historical re-enactment of the fights between the Nicoletti (who lived in Dorsoduro) and the Castellani (from Castello). During the era of La Serenissima, these fights between neighbourhoods usually took place on a bridge. It will now take place on the San Marco square.
Arsenale Carnival Experience
February 9 – 13, 2018
Live music, DJ’s and entertainment will be organized in 3 pavilions at the Tese dell’Arsenale by Molocinque. The event is targeted towards a young audience.
Regata Sprint di Carnevale
February 11, 2018
February 11, 2018
Similar to the Flight of the Angel, the Eagle also flies from the Campanile to the San Marco stage. For this 2018 edition, a major surprise event has been planned by Renzo Rosso. This Carnevale activity is very recent and only started in 2012. In the past, the eagles have mainly been women, with the exception of Saturnino, a famous electric bass player, in 2016. In 2017, the honour went to Melissa Satta, an Italian television star. The flight is planned at 12 o’clock.
Svolo del Leone
February 13, 2018
The final official 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 bell tower. It starts at 5 PM, after the award ceremony for the winner of the Festa delle Marie.
There are many masked balls and parties all over Venice, but they are rather expensive to attend. They often include dinner, a show and music. One of these is the official dinner show and ball organized by the Carnevale di Venezia, which is held in the Ca’ Vendramin Calergi along Canal Grande. A beautiful light show will be projected on the facade. If you don’t attend the party inside, you can still admire this part of the event. The show will be performed by the international cast of dancers, musicians, performers and actors of Nu’Art Events (who have been organizing the Festa Veneziana and Arsenale Nights in 2016) in costumes designed by Atelier Pietro Longhi. According to the program, you can expect a madness mood atmosphere. I haven’t attended any of these, so I can’t give you any insights. If you have taken part, please share your experience.
Can’t get enough of Carnevale di Venezia?
If you are interested in seeing more pictures from Carnival, have a look at my video on YouTube. It will certainly make you wonder if you still have time to book a flight to experience it first-hand. Alternatively, you can buy the book Venezia in maschera, with great pictures of masks and costumes or read Carnival for the dead, a novel which is set during Carnival.
Make sure to follow the official websites of Carnevale di Venezia as well as Venezia Unica (the tourism office of Venice) if you would like to be up-to-date on last minute changes and informed by other carnival related events. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection for instance offers free guided tours in Italian and English during the carnival period.
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