All About Carnival in Venice: Venetian Masks and More

Carnival, also known as “Carnevale”, is the largest celebration in Italy. From Venetian masks and masquerade balls to Venetian masks, Venice has it all! Do you like the idea of visiting the city in its most colorful and festive? Here’s a quick Q&A on Carnevale in Venice.

When is Venice’s Carnevale

Carnevale is held in Venice in the days preceding Lent. It runs from January 26 through February 12. 2013

From where did the idea for Carnevale originate?

Parties were forbidden during Lent’s 40-day period. So was eating meat, sugar, or fats. People would then try to rid themselves of all their rich food and drink, and get rid of all their partying! Before Lent. Hence… Carnival. Carnevale could actually be derived from the Latin words carne (meaning “farewell meat “!).”) Venetian tradition says that Venice’s Carnival began in 1162 when the townspeople celebrated victory over Aquileia’s Patriarch. In the 18th century, festivities were discontinued. In the 16th century, Venetians celebrated Carnevale with style.

What about Venetian masks, though?

Pietro Longhi’s “The Ridotto” demonstrates the widespread use of masks in 1750s Venice

In Venice, masking is a long-standing tradition. In 1268, a law was passed that prohibited the wearing of masks and the throwing of perfumed eggs.

Masks were an integral part of Carnevale celebrations by the Renaissance. In the 16th century, the Commedia d’Artetroupe was performing slapstick comedy on the piazzas in Venice while being masked. Masking wasn’t just a Carnival tradition, however.

Venetians were permitted to wear masks six months per year by the end of the 18th century. They took advantage of this! As shown here, black velvet masks were worn in “houses ill repute”, especially gambling parlors, to protect their owners’ identities.

Below is our video about mask-making in Venice.

You’re essentially saying that Carnevale in Venice is a non-stop celebration since the 13th Century?

Not quite. Not quite. By the 18th century, Venice was experiencing a decline in Carnevale celebrations. After the Austrian conquest in 1798 of Venice, mask-wearing and Carnevale were almost eliminated. Mussolini outlawed all celebrations in the 1930s.

What happened? A group of Venetian artisans were banned from working together in 1979 to start Carnevale. It may seem like a tourist ploy, but it worked. Around 3 million people visit Venice each year for Carnevale. In the 1970s, the long-forgotten art and craft of mask-making was revived.

What does Venice’s Carnevale look like today?

Carnevale in Venice today is a massive celebration that lasts for two weeks. Many events, including the extravagant masquerade balls, require invitations and are expensive. However, others like the parade of boats lit by candles, street performances and concerts are open to the public.

Well, bummer. I won’t be there during Carnevale. What are my chances of getting in on the action?

That is true, at least for those Venetian masks. Be aware that most mask shops in Venice sell cheap imported masks. This is far from the Venetian artisanal tradition of mask-making. Do yourself and Venetian artisans a favor and shop wisely at your mask shop. Do you need help? These are our top picks for mask shops in Venice. Some even offer mask-making workshops. Check their websites to find out more! ):

A Venetian mask shop in Venice

Benor Maschere Venezia: This artisanal mask shop is hidden behind Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio. It has a beautiful collection that was all handmade in the workshop. Tel. : +39 041710033. Address: S. Croce 1109.

Ca’ Macana (Dorsoduro). This Venetian mask shop is located right off Camp San Barnaba and offers an incredible selection of Carnevale Masks. You can even watch them being made in the workshop. Tel. : +39 0412776142. Address: Dorsoduro 3172. Ca’ Del Sol Maschere San Marco: This shop is a 5-minute walk away from St. Mark’s Basilica. They also sell exquisite Carnevale costumes. Tel. : +39 0415285549. Address: Castello 4964.

Il Canovaccio Castello: Here, the artisans create Venetian masks as well as papier-mache items for the stage. Tel. : +39 0415210393. Address: Castello 5369.

Happy Carnevale

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