Carnival in Italy is a festive and colorful celebration that takes place in various regions of the country every year, in the weeks leading up to Lent, which is a period of fasting, penance, and reflection in the Christian faith that begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts for 40 days, until Easter Sunday. Carnival, therefore, is an opportunity for people to enjoy themselves, let their hair down, and indulge in food, drink, and entertainment before the somber season of Lent begins.
In Italy, Carnival celebrations can be traced back to ancient Roman times, when the festival of Saturnalia was held in honor of the god Saturn. Over the centuries, Carnival has evolved and adapted to different cultural and religious influences, but its spirit of revelry and merrymaking remains unchanged. Today, Carnival is celebrated in many Italian cities, each with its own unique traditions and customs, but it is most famous in the cities of Venice, Viareggio, and Ivrea. Let's look at them in detail!
1. Venice Carnival
The Venice Carnival, or Carnevale di Venezia, is one of the most famous and glamorous Carnival celebrations in the world. The city is transformed into a glittering stage, with thousands of people flocking to Venice to take part in the festivities. The highlight of the Venice Carnival is the famous Volo dell’Angelo, where the winner of the previous Carnival’s beauty pageant “flies” (with the help of wires) from the San Marco bell tower across the square.
And for those who love glamorous events, we recommend the Ballo del Doge, where participants wear elaborate masks and costumes, and dance the night away in a beautiful historical Venetian palace.
The tradition of wearing masks during the Carnival dates back to the Medieval times, when masks were used to conceal one's identity and allow people to participate in public events without fear of social or political repercussions. Today, wearing masks is a symbol of freedom and the celebration of life, and the masquerade ball is one of the most anticipated events of the Carnival.
2. Viareggio Carnival
The Viareggio Carnival, or Carnevale di Viareggio, is held in the coastal town of Viareggio, in Tuscany. It is one of the largest and longest-running Carnival celebrations in Italy, and is renowned for its elaborate and colorful floats, which are created by local artisans and parade through the streets of the town. The floats are enormous, often reaching heights of up to 15 meters, and they are decorated with intricate designs, sculptures, and lighting.
The Viareggio Carnival is a true spectacle, with thousands of people lining the streets to watch the parade of floats. The event is a celebration of art, creativity, and imagination, and it draws visitors from all over the world who come to admire the floats and enjoy the festive atmosphere.
Many of the floats are usually caricatural, representing worldwide famous politicians and public figures, making the parade an entertaining expression of the current global trends.
3. Ivrea Carnival
The Ivrea Carnival, or Carnevale di Ivrea, is held in the town of Ivrea, in the Piedmont region of Italy. It is one of the most unique and exciting Carnival celebrations in the country, and it is famous for its Battle of the Oranges, or Battaglia delle Arance, which is held on the three final days of the Carnival.
In the Battle of the Oranges, participants divide into nine teams, each representing a different neighborhood of the town, and they engage in a massive food fight, using (non-edible) oranges as weapons. The battle is portrayed as a reenactment of a historical event that took place in Ivrea in the 12th century, when the people of the town rebelled against a tyrant who tried to force himself upon a young bride on her wedding night. The battle is a symbol of the power of the people, and it is a lively and entertaining spectacle that attracts visitors from all over the world.
Food and Drinks
No Carnival celebration in Italy would be complete without food and drink, and the various regions of the country offer a wide range of traditional dishes and drinks to enjoy during the festivities.
Anywhere in Italy the typical food for Carnival is represented by sweet fried pastries, with their own differences and names depending on the region.
In Venice, you can find the delicious sweet pastries called galani, frittelle or castagnole. The city is also famous for its spritz, a cocktail made with prosecco, Aperol, and soda water, which is the drink of choice for many Carnival-goers.
In Viareggio, the typical sweet fried pastries are called cenci and frittelle di riso. The former are sometimes served with Vin Santo, a sweet dessert wine, while the latter are made with rice previously cooked in milk.
In Ivrea, the traditional Carnival gastronomy is different from the two cities mentioned above. The most typical dishes are faseuj grassi (beans with pork) and polenta (boiled cornmeal) with cod. The town is also famous for its wines, and visitors can enjoy local Piedmontese reds, such as Barolo and Barbaresco, during the festivities.
Music and Dance
Music and dance are an integral part of the Carnival celebrations in Italy, and visitors can enjoy a wide range of traditional and modern performances during the festivities.
In Venice, as we mentioned before, the Ballo del Doge is the centerpiece of the Carnival, and visitors can enjoy live music and dance performances, as well as participate in the dancing themselves. Not limited to Carnival, the city is also famous for its gondola rides, and visitors can enjoy a romantic gondola ride along the Grand Canal, accompanied by singing.
In Viareggio, the parade of floats is accompanied by live music, and visitors can also enjoy performances by local bands and musicians in the town's piazzas. The town is also famous for its discos, and visitors can dance the night away to the latest pop and dance hits.
In Ivrea, the Battle of the Oranges is accompanied by live music and drumming, and visitors can enjoy performances by local folk groups and bands. The town is also famous for its bars and cafes, and visitors can enjoy live music and drinks in the local bars and cafes throughout the Carnival.
Carnival in Italy is a celebration of life, art, and imagination, and it is an opportunity for people to come together and enjoy the festivities before the somber season of Lent begins. The various regions of Italy offer unique and exciting Carnival celebrations, each with its own traditions, customs, and events, and visitors can experience the best of Italy's Carnival by visiting Venice, Viareggio, and Ivrea. Whether you're a foodie, a music lover, or just looking for a good time, Carnival in Italy has something for everyone. So why not plan a trip to Italy and join in the celebration this year?