One of the oldest carnivals in Italy, the Venice Carnival is also one, if not the, most spectacular and thrilling. It is a time for exhilaration and madness, disguise and play, for a break from the norm. Events, parades and a special festive atmosphere dominate the calli and piazzas of Venice in the weeks of Carnival celebrations, while masquerade balls take place in the elegant palazzi, recreating the same atmospheres of times gone by. Visitors from Italy and abroad flock to the city.
Here’s a guide to the most important events of the Venice Carnival 2020.
2020 Carnival celebrations began on Saturday, February 8 with a water show along the Cannaregio canal and will continue until Tuesday, February 25 (Fat Tuesday or martedì grasso).
The theme for this year’s carnival is “Play, Love and Madness” (Gioco, Amore e Follia).
The most important events take place on weekends, but watch out for interesting stuff going on during the week too. Open-air events are free, but access to some exclusive parties may cost up to 500 euros per person! For example, the Carnival Official Dinner & Ball is the official gala of the Venice Carnival 2020 and takes place in the luxurious Palazzo Ca’Vendramin Calergi, with dinner prepared by Wagner Restaurant. It costs 500 euros per person and takes place on 15, 16, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 and 25 February.
Exhibitions during the Venice Carnival
The exhibition ‘Venice, Carnival and love’, held at the Fabbrica del Vedere – Archivio Carlo Montanaro (3857 Calle del Forno), displays photographs, films and objects related to the Venice Carnival and the theme of love. The exhibition is open every day from 5 pm to 7 pm except on Tuesday, until 5 March. Admission is free.
The Peggy Guggenheim Museum is hosting a daily presentation on the life and passion of collector Peggy Guggenheim; it takes place at 12.30 pm and 4 pm for about 20 minutes and it’s free, but you have to buy the entrance ticket to the museum.
Valentine’s Day and Carnival
This year, the Venice Carnival falls during Valentine's Day, February 14; Venice being one of the most romantic cities in the world, the day will be celebrated in style.
On February 14 (Friday), St. Mark’s Square hosts the “San Valentino Night Ball,” from 7 to 9 pm. It begins with romantic music played in the square, then there will be fun sketches and kissing lessons (!) on the stage set up on the square, and dances with dancers from Venetian dance schools. People are invited to participate in a contest by sending a selfie with at least one image of a heart and the sentence ‘urlo il mio amore’ (I scream my love) to the email address firstname.lastname@example.org. Three participants with the most original selfies will be selected and called to the stage on 14 February to declare their love publicly.
Major 2020 Venice Carnival events
From 15 to 25 February, all major parades and shows will revolve around Piazza San Marco.
February 15 (Saturday): Festa delle Marie - the parade starts from San Pietro di Castello at 2.30 pm, runs along via Garibaldi, Riva degli Schiavoni and ends in Piazza San Marco by 4 pm where the 12 Marie (Venetian young women), will be presented to the public. This event recalls the tribute that the Doge paid to 12 beautiful but poor Venetian girls by giving them magnificent jewels as a bridal dowry. This is a great opportunity to admire the typical costumes of the Venetian tradition.
February 16 (Sunday): at 12, the traditional Flight of the Angel marks the official start of the Venetian Carnival. A person suspended in the air, tied to a metal cable, descends from the top of St. Mark’s tower to the Doge’s Palace. The tradition dates to the mid-16th century, when a Turk surprised the Venetians with this gesture as a way to salute the Doge.
From 3:30 pm to 5 om, Piazza San Marco hosts a competition of the most beautiful carnival masks.
February 23 (Sunday): at 12 the traditional Eagle Flight takes place in St. Mark’s Square. A well-known Italian artist or sportsman will fly over the spectators’ heads from the bell tower to the square.
At 2:30 pm a selected jury for the Best Mask Contest will award 2020’s most beautiful mask.
February 25 (Fat Tuesday): last day of Carnival.
The award ceremony for the 2020 winning “Maria” will be staged in San Marco Square, where the 12 Marie will arrive by boat, leaving from Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio. The crowning ceremony takes place at 4 pm.
Celebrations for this year’s Venice Carnival end in Piazza San Marco with the “Svolo del Leon” at 5 pm. The winged lion of San Marco is the symbol of Venice and during this event it is honored. A large canvas with the Venice lion painted on it will fly up to the bell tower over the audience in the square.
How Carnival in Venice began
The first official record declaring Carnival a public celebration in Venice dates to 1296, when the Senate of La Serenissima made the day before Lent a holiday of fun and merrymaking. In this respect, masks have always been a central component of the Venetian carnival, used to temporarily erase any distinction of social class, gender or religion. Mask makers were highly regarded, and gathered in a guild with their own laws.
When Venice fell under the Austrian-held Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia in 1797, Carnival celebrations, due to their subversive nature, were suspended. It was not until the 1970s that a revival of old traditions began with the opening of a modern mask shop.
For more information, visit the Venice Carnival's official website.
Photo credits for lead photo, second and third photo: http://www.carnevale.venezia.it/en/
Have you ever attended the Venice Carnival?