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Fantasy, Fairy tales and Frolics

Venice Carnevale returns from Jan. 27-Feb. 13

Every year Venice celebrates its Carnevale with sumptuous masked parades, boat pageants, street theater, performance art and the traditional Festa delle Marie.

The tradition of Carnevale recalls the fairy tales drawn to the city from all over the world, highlighting Venice’s role as a crossroad of cultures. It is seen as a gateway between the East and West, where myths – and fears – of monstrous creatures from overseas were translated into tales, paintings and decorations.

San Marco will play host to daily parades, multi-lingual comedians and a Best Masked Costume contest voted by the public, while the city’s stone-and-water streetscape is transformed into a magical forest of trees, plants and a musical backdrop.

The symbol of Carnevale – the handcrafted mask – will be celebrated this year with an inaugural competition open to national and international contenders culminating in an award ceremony and parade. The fifteenth-century tradition of the codegaa servant who escorted Venetian nobles at night with a lantern – is reprised with Walking Theater’s ‘Secrets of Venice’ tour, which will take visitors to secret corners narrating the history and the legends of the city.

The traditional Festa delle Marie is scheduled on Feb. 3 with the usual parade of 12 girls recalling the homage that the Venetian Doge paid to 12 of the city’s chaste maidens with the offer of jewels as a bridal dowry.   

Although Carnevale is first mentioned in historical documents dating back to 1092, its establishment as an annual event is believed to have begun with the Republic of Venice’s victory over Ulrich II of Treven in 1162, which required him to pay an annual tribute to the city in the form of 12 loaves of bread, 12 pigs and a bull. The animals were slaughtered to commemorate the victory around the period of Shrove Tuesday, the day preceding the 40-day Christian period of abstinence known as Lent.

This confluence of the sudden excess of meat with the onset of the Lenten fast meant that speedy consumption was necessary, and here are probably the origins of the term ‘carnevale,’ which is believed to derive from the two Latin words carnem and levare, which signify a farewell to meat.

Carnevale has become synonymous with overindulgence and merry-making. The celebrations in Venice draw three million visitors each year.