Words by Michelle Fabio

Although Carnevale (Carnival) is celebrated throughout Italy, Venice's version with its elaborate, colourful masks and costumes is one of the oldest and most famous festivals in the world. In 2009, it will run from 13-24 February, ending on Martedì Grasso (Fat Tuesday) and marking the beginning of the Lenten season.

With giant crowds of people, amazing music, ostentatious garb, and delicious food, Carnevale is definitely sensory overload; rather appropriately, this year's theme is "Sensation: 6 senses for 6 districts" and will highlight the various areas of the city. For example, the Cannaregio district will host food tasting events and the Santa Croce district will have performances involving experiments with smells.

The most recognizable part of the festival is surely the masks, which often feature feathers and/or glitter and include representations of jokers, animals, and puppets among many other personaggi (characters). Masks in Venice date back to the 13th century, but in the 14th century, when the powers-that-were decided they didn't want the republic's motto to become "What happens in Venice stays in Venice," masqueraders were prohibited from walking the streets in the dark.
Traditionally, Venetians donned masks from Santo Stefano's feast day (26 December) up until Lent and also during official events of the Serenissima Republic; gamblers and beggars often wore masks to hide their identities.

During the 1930s, Benito Mussolini and his fascist cronies banned the celebration in Venezia, but in the early 1980s, a small group of Venetian artisans drummed up interest and got things moving again, helping to create the Carnevale we know and love today.

For a glimpse at past editions of Carnevale, check out these videos:

Have you had the pleasure of experiencing Carnevale in Venice?