Italians really know how to celebrate la Dolce Vita. Every month you can discover several festivals in different regions of the country. The vibrant colors and splendor of the acclaimed Venice Carnival make it a must add to any travel bucket list. As a photography enthusiast and fashion lover, I was thrilled to finally witness it in person.
The elaborate costumes set off against the majestic backdrop of Venetian architecture, made it the perfect venue to test out my new Sony mirrorless camera. The trip inspired me to start a new series on the blog. Hope you enjoy the photos from the first edition: Italy Photo Diaries – Venice Carnival.
History of the Venice Carnival
During Carnival, the city of Casanova and canals is transformed by the pageantry of costumed parades and masquerade balls. The exact origins of the Venice Carnival are debated. Some say it began as a spontaneous celebration to mark the triumph of the “Most Serene Republic” of Venice over the Patriarch of Aquileia in 1162; while other records indicate that it officially began in 1296 to celebrate the beginning of the Christian observances for Lent. The Latin word Carnevale loosely translates to a farewell to meat, referring to the ban on meat during Lent.
It is said that Venetians also incorporated traditions from ancient Roman and Greek religious festivals that allowed all classes to join together in revelry behind masks that blurred the lines of a strict established social order. Traditionally, Venetians could publicly wear masks throughout the year. However, restrictions were slowly added to limit it to the period between Christmas and Fat Tuesday. Some say the restrictions were added due to fear that the masks provided the perfect guise for gambling and clandestine activities.
Best Time to Visit
The Venice Carnival continued on for centuries until it was banned during the Austrian rule of the Venetian Republic in 1797 and was only reinstated in the 1970s. If possible, try to spend a weekend in Venice during the carnival festivities to take advantage of the best events.
The first weekend features a grand opening with floating parades on the Rio Cannareggio. The Flight of the Angel (the winner of the carnival pageant zip lines high above St. Mark’s square) and the festivities held during the final weekend are the most popular. The full program of activities is available at Carnevale di Venezia website.
The best opportunity for photography in the famed St. Mark Square or Rialto Bridge area is in the early mornings. The light is also great before sunset, but the crowds (as you can see above) on Saturdays are intense.
Once the sun sets, day trippers head out and even the main tourist areas quickly become deserted. My friends and I decided to snap a few post dinner pictures in the empty square.
Italy Photo Diaries – Venice Carnival
Unless you are planning on dancing the night away at one of the exclusive masquerade balls, the majority of the activities are free to the public. The heart of the festival focuses on the costume competitions and photographing the showmanship of international participants who plan out their costumes months in advance. You can also try your hand and traditional mask making. Venetian companies such as Ca’ Macana offer short courses for tours and small groups.
This Spaniard designed and hand-stitched his own costume.
Artistic couples competed to wow the crowds.
Literature, comics, and Hollywood films provided plenty of costume inspiration as well.