The Carnival in Italy
A journey through the Italian regions to discover the characteristic Carnival celebrations of the peninsula.
From the north to the south, from small villages to large cities, during Carnival all of Italy is filled with events that are an explosion of music, colors and traditions, calling together both adults and children.
Carnival in Italy, celebrated as the most anticipated masquerade festival of the year, has a history of almost a thousand years and was inspired by pagan Greek and Roman festivals. Today it is considered a Christian Catholic festival, celebrating the days before the beginning of Lent, a time with many deprivations and strict rules.
What sets it apart from other festivals is the joyous spirit of masks, disguises and transgressions that undermine social conventions and hierarchies and where everyone can feel free to be whoever they want to be during the thousands of parades of floats that pass through all the centers of Italy under a shower of confetti and streamers. In Italy there are two rituals that celebrate Carnival, and they differ in that they have different start and end dates.
Most of the country celebrates the Roman Rite, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Shrove Tuesday, while in the north, in the Diocese of Milan and neighboring dioceses, the Ambrosian Rite is celebrated, which shifts the celebration by four days, moving the start of Lent from Wednesday to Sunday.
If in the popular imagination Carnival in Italy is usually characterized by parades with colorful floats and colorful costumes, in Carnival in Italy there are dozens of folkloric celebrations and typical masks that, with their originality linked to centuries-old traditions, have been lighting up the streets of all the cities of the country for centuries.
Carnival in Italy: Beautiful Italian carnival, fun and party with the papier-mâché giants, in Cento, Ferrara, Emilia Romagna, Italy. (photo © Shutterstock.com)
Probably one of the oldest and most famous carnivals in Italy is the Carnival of Venice, which, although it has no floats due to the small size of the streets of the old city, attracts millions of tourists and visitors every year, ready to immerse themselves in the magical carnival atmosphere that permeates the streets of the city. Characterized by fine costumes and richly decorated in the style of the eighteenth century, the Carnival of Venice is a riot of boat parades through the canals, competitions for the most original mask and theatrical performances that take place in every corner of the center.
The celebrations in Venice last eleven days and the most anticipated event of the carnival is the flight of the angel, which consists in carrying a young girl, appropriately harnessed, from the bell tower of the St. Mark’s Square to throw so that it can “fly” over the festive crowd that has gathered at the foot of the cathedral.
The second oldest carnival in Italy is that of Fano in the Marche region, whose distant origins date back to 1347 AD.
Here the carnival flows to the rhythm of music with the folkloric band “Musica Arabita”, which plays not on normal musical instruments, but on objects of all kinds such as pots and tin cans.
The parade of the Great Masked Contests is also a truly magical moment with its richly decorated floats and the famous “getto”, a rain of candies and chocolates thrown by the participants on the moving floats to the audience, which waits with raised hands for the arrival of the sweets.
Carnival in Italy: the parade of carnival floats with performers dancing around the allegorical floats at the Viareggio Carnival. The carnival in the Tuscan seaside resort of Viareggio is considered one of the most important carnivals in Italy. (photo © leonori / Shutterstock.com)
Also at the Carnival of Cento, in Emilia Romagna, the “getto” is the most eagerly awaited tradition. Associated with the famous Rio de Janeiro Carnival since 1990, in Cento the allegorical floats with their monumental dimensions, which can be up to twenty meters high, are the center of the festival and participate in a fierce competition for the most beautiful float.
The protagonist of the Cento Carnival is Tasi, a character who, according to popular tradition, threw all his possessions at the most prominent people of the city and who is represented every year with a giant sculpture made of papier-mâché, which is then burned in a large bonfire.
In Tuscany, just a stone’s throw from the sea, the famous Viareggio Carnival takes place.
The Carnival of Viareggio, a very famous carnival in Italy, with over 150 years of history, is known for its huge floats, on which more than 1,000 workers work for months and more than 25 different companies are involved. These floats are characterized by contemporary themes treated in the form of satire with giant caricatures of politicians or famous personalities from show business and sports made of papier-mâché and tens of meters high.
Among the most folkloric celebrations of Carnival in Italy is the Carnival of Ivrea in Piedmont with the “Orange Battle” that takes place every afternoon of Carnival in the streets of the city and is a historical re-enactment that recreates the battle between the “Orange Walkers”, that is, the people, and the “Orange Gunners”, placed on horse-drawn carts, representing the cruel tyrant.
Carnival in Italy: Battle of the Oranges during the Carnival of Ivrea, Piedmont, Italy. (photo © Stefano Guidi / Shutterstock.com)
An obligatory costume in Ivrea is a red beret and the highlight of the Carnival is the Historical Parade, in which the Vezzosa Mugnaia (Flemish Miller) marches, a symbol of freedom since its appearance in 1858.
In the province of Ascoli Piceno, the Offida Carnival steals the scene by reenacting the oxen hunt, made of papier-mâché and carried in a parade on the shoulders of four men. The festivities end on Shrove Tuesday with the Parade of the Vlurd, attended by hundreds of masked people with long bundles of reeds lit on their shoulders, dancing in a circle around a bonfire until it is extinguished.
In Puglia, on the other hand, the Putignano Carnival is the most famous in the region, thanks to its floats made by world-renowned papier-mâché artists.
Here the events begin in mid-January and it is celebrated every Thursday with unmissable events between fun and satire, dedicated to different social classes each week.
The first Thursday is in honor of the monsignors, followed by the Thursday of the priests, the Thursday of the nuns, the Thursday of the widows, the Thursdays of the madmen, the Thursdays of the wives and finally the Thursdays of the cuckolds with the famous cutting of the horns. At the end of Carnival there are the 365 chimes of the macaroni bell, one for each day of the year, marking the beginning of Lent.
Carnival in Italy: Historical cavalcade of hussars at the carnival in Ronciglione where emotion and tradition are at home. Ronciglione, Lazio, Italy. (photo © Del cavallo stefano / Shutterstock.com)
In Basilicata we find the Carnival of Tricarico with its strong link to the animal world. Inspired by St. Anthony the Abbot, protector of nature and the city, the traditional masks here are in the form of heifers or oxen and parade through the streets of the city with a cowbell around their necks and led by a shepherd.
Famous in Basilicata is also the Carnival of Satriano, considered one of the last tree rituals preserved to this day. Here the carnival becomes a real walking forest with hundreds of men dressed as trees, called Rumit, who parade through the streets of the city in a slow and atmospheric parade.
Famous for its equestrian tradition, the Ronciglione Carnival in Lazio is considered one of the most beautiful and characteristic of the region and is definitely worth a visit. The carnival begins with the cavalcade of hussars, which recalls the battle in defense of the Papal States, and follows with the “Corse dei Barberi”, a competition between horses without jockeys. Among the various festivals also stands out the Pilata dei Nasi Rossi, a procession in honor of Bacchus, the god of wine, characterized by dances that praise debauchery. Not to be missed is the final party that closes the events with the symbolic hot air balloon launch of the Carnival King.
Another original event of the Carnival in Italy is the Martignano Carnival, also known as Carnival of the Grecia SalentinaThe event, which involves all the villages of the Griki area, culminates with the traditional ritual of La Morte te lu Paulinu, a theatrical performance in which the most curious and important events that have taken place in the community during the year are presented.
Carnival in Italy: One of many, fantastic floats in the colorful carnival that takes place every year in Sciacca, Sicily. Agrigento, Italy. (photo © Terje Lillehaug / Shutterstock.com)
In the city of Romeo and Juliet, in the Veneto region, the celebrations are also truly unique. The Carnival of Verona is one of the oldest carnivals in Italy and passionately involves all citizens who, on the last Friday before Lent, paralyze the city center with a 7 km long parade in which groups from South America and other European countries also participate.
In the Dolomites, in the Ladin valleys of Trentino, the Carnevale Ladino is one of the most famous with its typical wooden masks called facères and the disguise of Bufòn, a storyteller with a funny cone-shaped hat and a small wine bottle hanging from his nose.
The carnival in Tramin on the South Tyrolean Wine Road is also very well known, with its extraordinary Egetmann procession, which takes place every two years on Shrove Tuesday. The wedding of Egetmann Hansel is celebrated. Various figures and carnival floats parade through the village in the South Tyrolean lowlands with much spectacle.
The Madonna di Campiglio Carnival, also known as the Habsburg Carnival, is truly spectacular with its princely style inspired by the 1800s and the imperial couple formed by Princess Sissi and her consort parading with a procession of ladies.
In Milan, the capital of Lombardy, Carnival begins when everyone else ends and is characterized by large parades with medieval costumes and the presence of numerous flag-wavers who skillfully move large flags in elaborate figures.
Carnival in Italy: large figures on the floats of the carnival of Acireale in Sicily, Italy. (photo © Chiara Magi / Shutterstock.com)
Carnival is also a very popular celebration on the islands. In Sicily, the most famous carnivals are those of Sciacca, with the handing over of the keys to the carnival king Peppe Nappa, who parades through the crowd distributing wine and sausages before being burned, and the carnival of Acireale, where floats made entirely of fresh flowers are paraded.
In Sardinia, with a lot of superstition and folklore, takes place the Carnival of Mamoiada, which has no floats, but brings to the stage original masks called Issohadores. They are characterized by a white mask, a red bodice, rattles and a rope used in the Carnival procession to catch hostages in the audience and the Mamuthones figures, who put on sheepskins, wear a wooden mask and walk bent under the weight of 30 kg bells that they carry on their shoulders.
Rich in history, culture and unique events around the world, Italy has a lot to offer during Carnival and if you’re thinking of treating yourself to a vacation between the months of February and March, all you have to do is choose the Carnival celebration that inspires you the most and head out in search of guaranteed fun!
Text © Italien.blog
The Issohadores at the Carnival of Mamoiada, Sardinia, Italy. (photo © Shutterstock.com)