Italians are recognised the world over for their love of celebration and entering wholeheartedly into the spirit of expressing their joy of life and tradition.
In Venice Carnival is the culmination and highlight of the annual calendar. The two week festival attracts thousands of visitors annually to witness and take part in the mystery and extravagance, of magnificent costumes, masks, events and entertainment, music and dancing.
Carnival is celebrated throughout all of Europe, in Italy, the streets of almost every city are alive with masks, confetti, colors and lights that make for a very exciting atmosphere for people of any age. Carnival! A party with ancient roots, is today a folkloristic rite in which traditions and fun work together to bring enormous life to this unique celebration of masquerade.
Nobody does it though quite like Venice, with its otherworldly backdrop of bridges, palace lined canals, squares and misty lagoon adds another dimension completely. It is easy to imagine yourself back in 18thC Venice and time seems to stand still.
The protagonist of Carnival is the costume or disguise, the mask that allows those who don it to transform themselves into whomever they wish to be, at least for a few days. The origins of Carnival date back to the Roman Saturnalia festival ringing in the new year and drawing to a close the winter (Julian calendar) similarly to the Lupercalia and Dionysian feasts. The actual term "carnevale" derives from the Latin "carnem levare" for 'take away the meat', in antiquity the term indicated the banquet held the last day before the period of abstinence from meat, i.e. the Christian Lent. Carnival, according to the Roman Catholic Liturgical Calendar, is set for between Epiphany (January 6th) and the start of Lent.
Initially a feast characterized by unrestrained enjoyment of food, drink and sensual pleasures, granted as a temporary escape for the lower classes, an opportunity to upend and subvert norms, especially in the way of social order. Through time Carnival spread throughout the world and took on ever-novel shades and nuances, evolving into a singular form of entertainment and merrymaking. From north to south, Italy marks Carnival with long standing traditions, internationally-acclaimed and attracting thousands of visitors from around the world every year to view and take part in the spectacle.
Highlights of Carnival in Venice include parades and masked balls, competition is fierce with many vying for the title of the most beautiful mask. The Flight of the Angel is another much anticipated event in the festival, usually held on Shrove Thursday, its roots date to an event in the mid 16th century. A Turkish acrobat did something that stunned the Venetians, with the aid of only a pole he walked on a rope from a boat tied in Riva degli Schiavoni to the top of St Marks Tower and then to the tower and Doges Palace balcony as a tribute to the doge. It has been held every year since with variations along the way, initially by professional acrobats and more recently by common people wanting to display their prowess and bravery.
Though the exihibition name has changed over time, 'The Flight of the Angel' when an acrobat dressed with angel wings tied to a rope was let down the tower, at the end of the descent the doge himself gave the angel impersonator a gift. The event changed its name again into 'Volo della Colombina' (The Flight of the dove) starting from 1759. In that year the acrobat cum angel fell down over the horrified crowd. Since then a wooden dove substituted. After the fall of the Republic the event was banned (as were many other traditions) until 1979 when Italy sought to re-invigorate its cultural heritage and bring back the culture, craftsmanship and traditions of Venice before they became lost.
Since 2001 'The flight of the Dove' become again 'The Flight of the Angel' with the reintroduction of a real person replacing the wooden dove, staging the old ritual of the homage of the sceptre to the Doge. This announced the beginning of the Carnival of Venice with a triumph of confetti and coloured air balloons. The event is now held on the week-end previous to Shrove Thursday marking the beginning of the festivities.