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Venice Carnival & Venice Carnival Masks

The Venice Carnival was recently voted one of the world’s top five carnivals. I would agree. This is a carnival everyone should experience at least once in their lives.

Venice Carnival Masks

The masks are amazing too; just look at the ones on this page to see what I mean.

I remember the first time, when I was a little girl, my mamma bought me a small one. It was just so beautiful.

Now that I'm all grown up, I'm still a kid in a candy store at carnival time.

For the inside story on masks and carnival, read on.


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The History of the Venice Carnival

This is a carnival that dates back over 900 years. Its roots can be traced back even further than that, to the ancient festivals celebrating the end of winter.

Carnival was the one time during the year when there were no bounds.

You were free to do all the things you had wanted to do all year; your fantasies and desires were free to be lived without guilt and anonymously, thanks to the masks.

Social status, wealth, or any of the other things that we are normally so quick to judge had no bearing. It is not quite like that now; some of the wild abandon has gone, and it is a little more refined. Perhaps this is a good thing for middle-aged people like my husband and me.

The Venice Carnival Today

The carnival was stopped in the 18th century by Napoleon, who was shocked by the loose morals. It was then reintroduced in the 1970s as a way to bring tourists to Venice in the low season.

The carnival runs during the two weeks leading up to Tuesday. Ash Wednesday. Its date is therefore effected by Easter but in general, it is held around mid-to-late February.

During the carnival, Venice is alive with masked Venetians—and tourists.

For two magical weeks, Venice transforms into a kaleidoscope of color and sound, with the air thick with the scent of anticipation and excitement. The city's labyrinthine streets come alive with the sound of laughter and music as masked figures weave through the crowds, their elaborate costumes evoking the splendor of a bygone era.

From elaborate masquerade balls to lively street performances, there's something for everyone at the carnival. The iconic masks, adorned with intricate designs and vibrant colors, add an air of mystery and intrigue to the festivities, inviting participants to lose themselves in the magic of the moment.

Venice Carnival Masks

Carnival Masks from Venice

The masks were originally pretty simple—they were just meant to disguise the wearer. With the passing of the years and the ever-declining degree of debauchery involved, they have become more elaborate.

A number of masks exist, such as the Moretta and Larva, but the Bauta is the mask that is most commonly worn during carnival. Authentic Bauta masks are always white and generally cover the whole face, which also means that the voice is distorted or disguised.

Many Bauta masks these days only cover the top part of the face, allowing the wearer to eat and drink without having to remove the mask. It makes sense because eating and drinking are such an important part of carnival.

Yet, beneath the ornate veneer of these masks lies a deeper significance—a reflection of Venice's enduring spirit and resilience in the face of adversity. For centuries, the carnival has served as a symbol of unity and celebration, bringing together people from all walks of life to revel in the magic of this timeless tradition.

So, as you don your mask and join the throngs of revelers in the streets of Venice, take a moment to appreciate the history and craftsmanship that make these masks truly special. For in their intricate designs and elaborate details, you'll find a glimpse of the soul of the Venice Carnival—a celebration of life, love, and the enduring spirit of the city on the water.

Where to Buy Venetian Carnival Masks?

If you would like to buy masks, there is one place I can thoroughly recommend: Carta Alta in Giudecca, Venice. Phone: +39 041 2771132. They make all their masks by hand in Venice.

Another very good shop is the Casin dei Nobili showroom, which is in Dorsoduro 2766/b, tel: 0415202873. The video above was taken in their store, and, like Carla Alta, all their masks are made by hand in their own workshop. Their store is a real delight to wander around, full of fascinating treasures.

Carnival Masks by Alex StrahilovCarnival Masks by Alex Strahilov

Venice Carnival Tips

• I know this might be ridiculous advice but believe me I have seen poor unknowing souls get it all wrong. Venice Carnival is not a fancy dress party so don't dress like the poor guy I once saw wearing a Superman outfit.

• If you are going to wear a mask at least get a reasonable period costume. Venetians will think you silly if you're wearing a fancy mask and casual clothes.

For more great shopping ideas in Venice visit our guide.

Venice Carnival: FAQ

What is the history behind the Venice Carnival?

The Venice Carnival has roots dating back to the Middle Ages, evolving from ancient Roman festivals. It reached its peak in the 18th century before being banned by Napoleon and later revived in the 1970s.

When does the Venice Carnival take place?

The Venice Carnival typically occurs in the two weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. The exact dates vary each year based on the Easter holiday.

What is the significance of masks in the Venice Carnival?

Masks have historical significance, allowing people to conceal their identities and indulge in forbidden behaviors during the carnival season. Today, masks are a symbol of the festival's mystique and allure.

What should I know before attending the Venice Carnival?

Be prepared for large crowds, book accommodations in advance, respect local customs, wear comfortable shoes for walking, and familiarize yourself with the event schedule.

How can I participate in a Venetian Carnival masquerade ball?

Participating in a Venetian Carnival masquerade ball is a unique experience steeped in tradition and elegance. To attend, you can purchase tickets to exclusive balls hosted in historic palaces, grand hotels, or prestigious venues throughout Venice. It's essential to dress in elaborate costumes and wear an authentic Venetian mask to fully immerse yourself in the ambiance of the event.

What are some traditional Venetian Carnival foods to try?

The Venice Carnival is food heaven. Some must-try dishes include frittelle, deep-fried sweet dough balls dusted with powdered sugar; galani (also known as crostoli), crispy fried pastries drizzled with honey or icing sugar; and cicchetti, bite-sized snacks served in Venetian bacari (wine bars).

Also indulge in Venetian specialties like risotto al nero di seppia (black squid ink risotto) and sarde in saor (marinated sardines with onions and vinegar) to experience the rich flavors of Venetian cuisine during Carnival season.

What is the significance of the "Flight of the Angel" ceremony?

The "Flight of the Angel" features a costumed performer descending from St. Mark's Campanile to the center of St. Mark's Square, symbolizing the start of the carnival celebrations and bringing luck to the city.

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