the Carnival […] where even the wisest and gravest throw off the usual rigidity of their lives, and deign to mingle in the follies of this time of liberty and relaxation.
Alexandre Dumas "The Count of Monte Cristo"
Venice is wonderful all the time, but it holds a particular fascination during its annual Carnival. This is the time of the endless laughter, music, irrepressible joy, smiles, dances and competitions. For 18 days the streets and places of Venice with its canals, bridges and gondoliers become a huge stage to host one of the enormous and radiant carnivals in the world. Everything is mixed up in this huge fairy show: wild fantasy, incredible costumes, sleepless nights, gondolas and masks, masks, masks…
The Carnival in Venice has its history of several ages – first documental mention is in 1094, but the origins come from the antique times. The Carnival knew it’s Golden Age during the XVIII century, where the costumes could easily compete with some haut couture masterpieces. The characters of the Italian comedy as Harlequin, Pierrot, Pantalone and Colombina became the official faces of the carnival. By the way, that explains a lot of masks showing the role of each character.
Different sources give different versions about the origins of the masks. For example, one says that during the Saturn festival (Saturn = god of the crop farming), which took place right after crop harvesting; the slaves were allowed to sit at the same table with their masters. And wearing masks helped to avoid all the class differences in order not to spoil the fun.
The Carnival in Venice is said to become annual in the year 1162 from an important victory of the “Repubblica della Serenissima” (how it was called the town of VENEZIA in those times), in the war against Ulrico, Patriarch of Aquileia. To celebrate this victory, dances and reunions started to take place in San Marco Square. Men and women devoted themselves to amusements preserving incognito under the masks.
As for me, as most events in my life, my first visit to Venice was spontaneous. I had a couple of days off, so I put a ball dress into my suitcase (yes, you can easily find a little black dress in any shop, but it is not that easy to find a ball-gown if you need it) and hello, Venice, here I am!
Of course, it is impossible to describe all the magnificence of the event! This is exactly the case when the picture is worth a thousand words! Few are aware that there are two sides of carnival in Venice: the “outside” which attracts all the tourists from all over the world and everyone can take part in it, and the hidden one – which is not that easy to get into. There are a lot of ancient palaces in Venice which host masked balls and private parties during the carnival time. The entrance is assured strictly by the invitation and requires a special dress-code. The participation is expensive but it is completely worth it! Dainty dishes and drinks are offered to the guests all night long. Musicians and dancers, competitions and shows animate the night. Needless to say that all this takes place in the private palaces with decoration that could easily compete with some museums.
I was lucky enough to participate in some of them. My very first private party was at a private Palazzo Gradenigo.
Next night, we participated in a “Silk Road” Party also in a private Palace.
Also we had a pleasure to assist to a Sultan’s Marriage party in Hotel Monaco, which was privatized especially for this occasion.
Between the sleepless nights, all the costumed participants gather at Caffè Florian – one of the oldest coffee houses in Venice.