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.
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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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 carnival runs during the two weeks leading up to the Tuesday before 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.
Bands, jugglers, and entertainers enliven the piazza of the city; the canals are filled with colorful boats; and the nights are full of parties and masked balls.
It really is a magical time to visit the city.
Venetians themselves all love Carnival time; although many tourists are in town, the Carnival has maintained itself as a genuine and 100% authentic "Venetian" event. If you arrive as a tourist, you'll just need to fit in with it and enjoy an experience that has hardly changed one iota.
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.
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.
• 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.