Carnevale in Venice

By Zoë Sonnenberg (Stanford University)

Venice is a city of romance, with winding canals and tiny alleys opening onto gorgeous bridges.  Gondolas glide through the water, bearing couples taking photos and wearing masks.  In fact, couples are taking photos and wearing masks on the bridges, too.  And in the tiny alleys.  It is the opening weekend of the Carnevale festivities in Venice, and it feels like all of Italy has come for the celebration.

Carnevale di Venezia is a festival spanning the month of February, and ending just before Catholic Lent begins.  The yearly festivities may have begun as early as the 1160s, but Carnevale was certainly an establishment during the Renaissance; it disappeared during the Baroque period, resurfacing occasionally as an outlet for artists, and was officially reinstated by the Italian government in 1979 in an attempt to revive the traditional Venetian culture.  Today, Carnevale attracts approximately three million tourists to Venice each year.

Undoubtedly, the city is beautiful, and the bustle of Carnevale adds to the picture.  The “people watching” is unmatched, as Carnevale feels somewhat like Venetian Halloween.  Walking around the city, you see children dressed as Princess Elsa and Batman, while a group of adults follows dressed as the entire Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle squad (it seems Donnie, Leo, Mikey, and Raph found their ways back to Italy after all).  Not to mention the exquisite 18th century costumes, which are elaborate, brightly colored, and in full period.  There are mask stores at various price ranges throughout the city, and buying (and wearing!) one helps to make you feel a part of the action.

Venice is a difficult city to navigate, and the crowds of Carnevale make finding your way even more of a struggle.  Even GoogleMaps can fail – if possible, use multiple phones when trying to find a specific destination, and be prepared to wander when lost.  Similarly, it is difficult to find inexpensive and non-touristy food; a foodie myself, I love to research restaurants when I travel, and it was almost impossible to find well-reviewed restaurants that were neither touristy nor breaking the bank.  (That being said, there are bakeries all over the city, and the fritelle are essentially delicious Italian doughnut holes!)

The Piazza San Marco is the center of all the action, with wooden stages set up for various acts throughout the festival.  During the opening ceremony, the Flight of the Angel, the piazza was absolutely packed, and leaving was human gridlock.  Even still, the angel floating gracefully down from the clock tower, dress billowing and confetti fluttering around her, was a magnificent sight.

Carnevale di Venezia continues through February.

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