First recorded in 1296, the Carnival of Venice is an amazingly beautiful celebration that takes place about two weeks before and runs through to Shrove Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday). Throughout the ages, the carnival has been canceled and revived multiple times including in 1797 when the Venetian Empire fell to Napoleon as well as in the 1930s when Mussolini banned the festivities. The current reincarnation of the carnival began in 1979 and by 1981-1984 it had hit its stride with hundreds of thousands of visitors attending the event.
One of the main features of the carnival is the famous Venetian carnival masks. The people traditionally wear them to kick off the carnival season, as well as at midnight of Fat Tuesday to close out the festival. The purpose of the masks was to blur the distinction between the nobility and the common people so that all could participate in the celebration. Originally they were made using a papier-mâché technique. Today some are still made that way, however many modern versions are created using leather. These leather masks are significantly more ornate than the original simply designed masks, incorporating gold leaf, hand-painted feathers and gems. The 3 main types of masks created by Venetian mask-makers are Bauta, Larva & Moretta. The Bauta is a whole face with no mouth and lots of gilding, some Bautas are made to cover only the upper part of the face, allowing the mask to still conceal their identity but making talking, eating and drinking much simpler. The Moretta is an oval mask of black velvet finished off with a veil. Invented in France, it rapidly became popular due to its accentuation of feminine features. The Larva, also called the Volto, is a very typical Venetian mask and is usually worn with a tricorn hat and a cloak and is the most popular mask at the Venetian carnival.
With countless concerts and events, Venetians and visitors alike fill the piazzas, churches wearing 18th century costumes borrowed from the days of Casanova. The truly lucky might receive an invitation to one of the candlelit masked balls hosted by descendants of Venice’s once powerful noble families. With an average of over five major scheduled events per day, prepare yourself for a couple weeks of continuous celebration. Everyone has seen and done New Orleans Mardi Gras, but this traditional pre-Lenten festival puts it to shame with their glorious costumes, lavish parties, and generations of history. Come celebrate Carnival as it was intended, at the Carnival of Venice!
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