By Julia Luise Tiemens
Venice is a city in the north of Italy that has been embedded in culture, art ,and secrets for many centuries. Most of its stories date back very long, as well as the concept of being a carless city. Since 1987 the city itself belongs to the UNESCO cultural heritage for its uniqueness in every context. The “one-of-a-kind” historical architecture hosts millions of stores that sell decorated masks all year around. These rank from commercial tourist masks to traditional stores offering workshops on the art of painting them. Whichever store or tourist attraction, they all hint at the famous carnival that is hosted in Venice every February and is as special as the city itself.
In no other city of the world we are able to find such an elegant and secretive approach to carnival culture. Although in terms of popularity it is just beaten by the famous carnival from Rio, we define it as the highlight of elevated carnival culture. Every year it is staged in February and lasts ten days, where millions of international tourists stream into the city. Many come to see the famous opening, which is characterized by giant light shows and a parade in the “Canale Grande”, the biggest and most popular channel in Venice. During this week, every path in the city is filled with the most creative costumes, which range from traditional doges and dresses to some modern costumes like the smurfs. Many Venetians design and sew these costumes by themselves and inherit them inside the family, which means that some costumes have been passed down for generations. The traditional side of the carnival is what gives many people a feeling of traveling back in time towards the Renaissance.
Throughout the festivities there are many traditional artistic performances and separate events, most set on the San Marcos square. Usually one of the highlights of the week is the “volo dell’angelo”, in English the flight of the angel. Here a Venetian woman in an angel’s costume is attached to ropes and is being lowered from the sky over the many observers’ heads, in the famous square. Another beloved event is the choice of the prettiest marias. This is a very old tradition, where the Doge used to choose the most beautiful 12 virgins in his city and invite them into the Palace. Arriving in gorgeous costumes, they were gifted with presents from all over the world for their future weddings. Today we witness it in form of a parade of 12 young women. Since everything in the lagoon city comes back to the water, also the carnival has its side as a water celebration. Towards the end of the festivities, a parade is held with hundreds of colorful boats with customized rowers that row through most parts of the city and end in “Cannaregio”, where they are celebrated with wine. However, the ten days always end with giant fireworks which are very special as their reflection is witnessed everywhere in the water.
The carnival is wrapped into centuries of history. We find first mentions of it in pieces of writings of the doge Vitale Fallier in the year 1094. From what we know, today’s carnival goes mainly back to the 12thcentury, when Christians began to celebrate the beginning of the fasting time. Since then a big aspect of the carnival has been the anonymity of the masks. This can be characterized as a split phenomenon: What started off as a harmless, fun trend to get out of one’s own skin for a while has been turning into a fertilizer for crime. Looking at the past, there has been a lot of abuse of the not-knowing of someone’s personality. Because many people used this excuse to commit anonymous crimes, it was commonly called “the night of affirmation of violence”. In the 18th century, it was even legal to wear weapons during the carnival to be able to defend oneself against the robberies. These problems have mainly been eliminated nowadays, however, the core of the celebration is still the same. Festivities have always ended on Ash Wednesday, even if they used to start way earlier.
The other interesting side about the carnival is the extent of its internationalization, which is one of the factors that lead people to believe it to be a world’s cultural heritage. During the carnival we will hear millions of different languages in the streets, despite the city being so small. There is a tradition of women from all over the world coming to dress up with a lot of effort and just standing in crowded places to give people the pleasure of observing. Naturally, they become the subject of many photos, which is why they always carry small cards with their email address to give to the photographers for them to send the pictures. This is one of the factors that makes the photos circle all around the world.
One could ask: What makes the Venice carnival so special? The answer lies in the charme that it has. The cleverly made masks and the elegant costumes, in the middle of the secretive atmosphere of the city. The surrounding of historical architecture, the absence of cars, and the ringing of the church bells, remind of the famous balls throughout the age of the Renaissance. Instead of being a commercial carnival with loud music, people getting drunk and dirt everywhere, it is a mysterious event, falling back on classical music and history. Most Visitors are unable to close their mouths from being amazed and feel transported into the ancient times in the balls in historic palazzi and fairy tales.
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