This festival is celebrated in Venice in Italy every year. It begins almost two weeks before the Ash Wednesday. This carnival ends on Shrove Tuesday, which comes right before Ash Wednesday, with the celebration of Lent which again falls fifty days prior to the Easter Sunday.

This festival is famous all over the world for the elaborate costumes and exotic masks which people wear during the celebration.  Carnival which means “removing meat” or “farewell to meat” is the pre-Lent festival and is celebrated all over Italy.

  • History

It is believed that this carnival started as the celebration of victory of the Republic of Venice over Ulrico di Treven, who was the Patriarch of Aquileia, back in the year of 1162. In order to celebrate and rejoice this major achievement, all the people gathered in San Marco Square and danced to their heart’s content.

The Venice Carnival is believed to have originated from that time and was made official by the Government of Italy during the Renaissance period. The baroque carnival in the 17th century was a way of protecting and saving the highly prestigious image of Venice in front of the rest of the world. This carnival became famous and gained popularity in the 18th century.

However under the King of Austria’s rule in the year 1797, celebrating it was forbidden and wearing of masks were banned completely or outlawed. Gradually the carnival returned in the 19th century only for a very short period and was only accompanied by small and private feasts.  The Venice Carnival finally reappeared in the year 1979 after a long absence. It was brought back with the effort of the Italian Government whose main goal was to restore and bring back Italian culture and traditions which had started to fade away.

For them bringing back the celebration of the carnival was the first stepping stone towards restoring the history and traditions of Venice. The traditional concept of wearing beautiful masks and costumes were reintroduced by some students of Venetian colleges. Ever since the return of this gala carnival, approximately three million visitors from all over the world gather in Venice in order to be a part of this festival. One of the events of major importance is the contest of the prettiest mask worn by the people and it is judged by a panel of renowned international fashion and costume designers.

  • The Masks

The carnival is famous all over the world for the wide display of exotic masks during the celebration. Earlier people could wear these masks between St Stephen’s Day and the beginning of the carnival which took place at midnight of Shrove Tuesday. People also wore masks on the day of Ascension as well as from 5th October till Christmas. Thus people used to spend a large portion of the year wearing masks and in disguise, hiding their day to day identity.

The makers of these masks would enjoy a special position in the society and had their own sets of rules. These colorful masks are generally made from glass, porcelain and leather. Originally the masks were much simpler in design and often had a symbolic significance. The modern Venetian masks are however has great deal of intricate designs which are hand painted.

They are also adorned with gold leaf, original feathers and have various gems engraved on them. This makes the Italian masks way more expensive than their counterparts manufactured from American factories. Though the essence behind wearing masks in Venice is not very clear, one scholar believes that covering one’s face in the public was Venetian response to one of the most rigid hierarchical class in the history of Europe.

  • Types of Masks

    • Bauta: These masks were originally completely white and unadorned. The modern ones cover the entire face and have grotesque features and no mouth at all.

    • Colombina:  These covers only half of the face and are highly adorned with silver, gold, feathers and crystals. It has a ribbon at the back like all the other masks.

    • Medico Della peste: It is a bizarre and unusual looking mask that has a long beak. These types can be easily recognized. It was originally worn by doctors to prevent the spread of plague while treating the victims.

    • Moretta:  It is a small oval strapless mask made out of black velvet. These have large eyeholes and no mouth.