Now who wouldn’t fancy warmer weather in winter and the chance to let your hair down and party? Throughout February you can enjoy a month-long programme of carnivals across Italy. The citywide party in Venice is well known but there are plenty of other events worth experiencing.
Alessandra Smith from the Italian Tourist Board spoke with Keri Jones on the Great Destinations Radio Show. Alessandra says the actual dates vary each year because these celebrations follow the church calendar. “It’s linked to Lent and Easter but there are deeper roots dating back to mediaeval times and pre-Christian festivities. Many of those have now been absorbed into religious festivals.”
The festival in Venice runs from the 11th to 28th February this year. There’s a programme of brightly coloured shows, parades and music. “It’s very special because it’s the most stylish of the carnivals,” said Alessandra. “As you go around the city you will see that people are taking it very seriously. Some parade around in costumes that date back to the 18th century. The masked balls are very chic. And, of course, because Venice is so beautiful and photogenic it becomes the perfect canvas for beautifully dressed people to stop and pose for pictures. It’s like theatre really. There’s no car traffic so it feels like you’ve gone back in time.”
I asked Alessandra if something was happening every day in Venice during this event? “Most days there will be something. It has to end on Shrove Tuesday when Lent starts. The end is always the busiest time. Sometimes it is better to go earlier on because there is plenty happening and you see lots of masks, but you might avoid some of the crowds.”
And she recommends dressing up in order to make the most from the event. “Just wearing a costume or even a mask makes all the difference. I remember when I was going to Venice in all my finery, the other mask wearers acknowledged me. I became part of this huge street party. It’s definitely something to be enjoyed,” she said.
On weekends throughout February there is a carnival in a town on the northern coast of Tuscany, which is known for political satire. The carnival in Viareggio has a parade of giant papier mâché floats made by a dedicated group of people. Many of them are grotesque or satirical representations, often of famous politicians. Will there be a Donald Trump figure, I asked? “Very likely” Alessandra laughed. “It is not just Italian politicians. And the American president is rather famous.”
Ivrea is near Turin in northwest Italy. On February 28th this year there’ll be the traditional ‘orange battle’ as part of their festival. “Hopefully they are not hard. Maybe they’ll choose some that have ripened!” says Alessandro. “Some of the carnivals re-enact battles where the population have risen against tyrants or their rulers. This is the case with this carnival but they luckily use oranges instead of arms these days.”
“Are there any others that get a bit messy?” I asked. “Being messy is our carnival characteristic isn’t it?” replied Alessandro. “It’s a time when all the rules are overturned. Servants used to behave like the rulers and the elite rulers would mix with the population. You could play tricks, sometimes quite nasty tricks, and your identity was disguised by your mask.”
Being in Italy, you can guarantee that food is associated with these festivals too. Ravioli lovers should head for Piceno, half way down the country on the western side of Italy. And there are some carnivals, like the one held in Cento, with a more flamboyant side, like you’d get in South America. “There are beautiful ladies, scantily dressed, with lots of dancing and music. There’s the sense of fun of a big street party,” said Alessandro. The programme starts on February 12th. You’ll find Cento near Bologna in Italy’s north.
You can find all the information you need on www.italia.it – just look up Carnival.