There are many carnivals in the world, but if we talk about the best ones, obviously we should include this one from Italy. In fact, the Carnival of Venice is one of the most visited celebrations in the world! Famous for its elaborate masks, the festival takes place in February each year.
It is around two weeks before Ash Wednesday and ends on Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday). Once the carnival started, people would dress up in incredible traditional Venetian costumes and, of course, with their masks on.
Suppose you want to know more facts about this remarkable carnival. In that case, all is good because we are here to satisfy your curiosity. Here, you will uncover 15 Carnival of Venice facts that you probably never heard before. Sit comfortably and take your favorite snacks to add more fun while you read!
1. It Began as a Celebration of the Venice Republic’s Victory Over Aquileia
When you first knew about this event, you might wonder why people celebrate the Carnival of Venice? Now, let us tell you. Carnival of Venice was originally a celebration of the Venice Republic’s military victory over its rival, the Patriarch of Aquileia, in 1162.
To give credit to the winner, the people of Venice gathered in Piazza San Marco or better known as Saint Mark’s Square, to dance and celebrate their victory. In fact, the Carnival of Venice became official in the Renaissance era. Nowadays, people still hold it annually in the streets of Venice, even though some of the participants may not know the origin.
2. The Venetian Masks were Used to Protect One’s Identity and Dispel Any Social Differences
If you visit the Carnival of Venice, you will see people walking around wearing incredible masquerade costumes and masks on. But do you know why people are wearing masks? Traditionally, people wear Venetian masks to protect their identity and dispel any social differences.
The Venetian masks were first mentioned in the document from the 13th century, which stated that masked men were banned from throwing eggshells of rosewater at women. At first, the officials restricted people from wearing masks to Carnival. Eventually, in the 18th century, the authority allowed people to wear masks from October-June.
3. You Cannot Talk with The Person Behind the Moretta Mask
Aside from looking impressive, the Venetian masks also hold various interesting things about them. Even though its traditional purpose is to hide someone’s identity so that everyone can socialize with whoever they want, you still cannot talk with the person behind the Moretta mask.
Each mask has its own symbol or meaning, and the Moretta mask is one that symbolizes silence. Its design has no opening for the mouth, and women are the ones who usually wear them. By clenching a button between their mouth, the users ensure the masks stay still. Therefore, you should not misunderstand if one day you speak, but they don’t answer.
4. It was Banned for About 200 Years
Would you believe it if we say that the Carnival of Venice was once banned for about 2 centuries? Believe it or not, it really happened back then when Napoleon and his troops invaded Venice in 1797.
In fact, the invasion caused a rippling effect on Venetia, starting from economic to cultural, including the cessation of the Carnival of Venice. Wearing Venetian Carnival costumes were forbidden, except during private parties and for the Ballo Della Cavalchina in Teatro La Fenice. Consequently, the carnival didn’t take place for about 200 years.
5. You May Be Charged Hundreds of Euros a Day for Venice Carnival
Perhaps you want to know how much it will cost to attend this celebration. The fact is, the public events during the Carnival of Venice are free of charge. However, it can cost you up to hundreds of euros a day if you plan to wear a traditional Venetian costume.
There are many ateliers in the city that provide you to rent one. Of course, you can just put on a mask or any kind of costume to go there, as it is not an obligation. But one thing is for sure, spending that much money to wear your dream costume on this special day is worth it!
6. A Wide Variety of Venice Traditional Sweets Will Be Found in the Carnival
The meaning of the word Carnival is “farewell to meat,” hence Venetians are spending the last days before the start of Lent eating all the meat they can. And it is also part of the celebration of the Carnival of Venice. You can also eat Venice’s traditional, delicate and sacred tasty sweets when the carnival begins.
Yes, it is a sacred sweet since you can only eat it during the event. Give a try to Fritelle, Galani, and Castagnole. All of them become the National Sweets of Veneto. Although you can buy it outside Venice or Italy, the vibes will not be the same.
7. 15,000 Venetian Masks Are Produced Per Year for the Carnival
The carnival of Venice is very famous because it helps to introduce the culture of Venice too. Thus, every year, one of the famous artisans states that he can produce 15,000 Venetian masks for the carnival. It uses paper mache for the base, then applies the paint, add lace exclusively from Venice, and then adds the Swarovski and gold leaf. The real cock feather with natural color is the hallmark of this beautiful mask!
8. Venetians Used Masks To Do Illegal Act in the 18th Century
Before the 18th century, Venetians used masks to do something that was illegal, such as gambling. Gambling ought to be illegal, except during the Carnival. Because of that, many people came to gambling halls in the casinos wearing black velvet masks.
This action, needless to say, undermines the idea of freedom and equality, which is the aim of the carnival because it gives rise to many criminal cases. As a result, the authority forbade walking in the carnival costumes outside the Venetian palaces when Napoleon occupied Venice.
9. The Famous Characters of Commedia dell’arte
At the Venice carnival, you can choose the characters you want from the Commedia dell’arte character masks. There is a very well-known Venetian character in it. Yes, he is Pantalone, a super greedy man. Although the origin of this character is still unclear, there is a proof that described the character through the piece of artwork that came out in 1568 in a court of Bavaria. Pantalone loves money and believes everything can be sold and bought, including his daughter, whom he tried to sell to a wealthy man by forcing her to marry a rich one.
10. Long Nose Mask Is Not Only Wear During the Carnival
Of all of the masks that are common to wear, whether it is Commedia dell’arte character masks or the general ones, the Long Nose mask or Medio Della Peste is the most versatile one. Because a long nose mask was not only a mask for the carnival but also worn by the doctor when the plague attacked Venice. The long nose will hold the herbs and flowers to filter the air and horrible smell from plague victims. The doctor wears it for sanitary reasons. So that they can handle the patients without fear of contamination.
11. The Feast of Mary (Festa Della Marie)
Behind this event, there is a sad and tragic history for Venetians. The feast of Mary or Festa Della Marie happened to remember 12 brides of Mary in 943 who were raped and robbed of their jewels by the pirates. To remember that story, there is a fest that consists of beautiful ladies doing the parade and stopping in several places to do religious functions and private feasts with the citizens. Yet, it was discontinued, and the ladies were changed with the wood.
12. Flight of the Angel
In the Venice carnival, there is, in fact, an opening event named Flight of the Angel. Professionals perform some thrilling acrobats, such as flying on the rope at high speed. Due to its fame, the young Venetians dare to try, so there is a challenge for Flight of the Angel. But unfortunately, in 1759, the show ended in tragedy.
The performer crashed to the ground, and due to this tragedy, a wooden dove replaced the actual human. Hence, the name turned into Flight of the Colombina. In 2001, Flight of the Angel was reinstated with a new policy, such as the angel is the young Venetian who was “Mary of the Year” a year before.
13. Let’s Cut the Bull’s Head
When the carnival is starting and Fat Thursday is coming, the Venetians will cut the bull’s head in front of the Doge’s palace to reminisce about the victory over Ulrico in 1162. Nowadays, people subtitle the cutting of the bull’s head with paper mache and fabric bull created every year in San Marco Square.
14. Venice Lost 3 Million Tourists in 2021
Like others, the COVID-19 pandemic also disturbs the Carnival of Venice. The Governor of Veneto Luca Zaia announced to call off the Carnival celebrations at the last moment as Covid began to spread throughout Northern Italy. In 2021, the Carnival of Venice was back, but this time the carnival performance was quite different. Venice lost its 3 million tourists who usually attend, still due to the pandemic, so the streets and squares of the historic center are eerily empty. For the first time in forever, Venice sold so many masks, but not the Venetian mask.
15. You Can’t Stop the Carnival
The carnival of Venice is very important, sacred, and iconic. No one can stop the carnival, including the mournful one. In 1789, there was a big mournful moment that happened in Venice. The Doge, Paolo Renier, passed away in the middle of the carnival, yet the carnival continued. The death announcement took place a week later after the carnival was over to let the carnival continue.