Carnival in Italy: Top 5 Festivals along the Peninsula

venezia carnival

Carnival is a traditional celebration of Catholic countries in which people wear masks and costumes, allowing them to leave their individuality.

The ancient origin of the carnival refers to the festivities in honor of Bacchus and Saturn in the Roman period. On this occasion plebeian and aristocrats, wearing masks, cancelled the hierarchical order .

Here is a selection of the most famous Carnivals in Italy.

Carnival of Venice

Carnival of Venice.

Carnival of Venice. Photo by fra_cas

The Carnival of Venice is the most ancient Carnival in Italy. One of the oldest documents talking about this festival dates back to 1268.

The festival is famous especially for its masks. In the ancient times was born the Maskmakers profession which performed a special position in society, with own laws and guild. Venetian masks are made of porcelain or leather, with a symbolic and practical function.

Venetian handmade masks were featured in the film Eyes Wide Shut by Stanley Kubrick.

Carnival of Viareggio

Carnival of Viareggio.

Carnival of Viareggio. Photo by Visit Tuscany

The Carnival of Viareggio is considered the most important Carnival worldwide.

The Carnival floats are the main attractions of the festival. Among the biggest and animated worldwide, the floats parade along the sea promenade in Viareggio. The main theme of the event is the satire, of political and social type.

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The tradition of floats’ parade has ancient origins, around 1870, when some rich aristocrats decided to wear a costume parading with flowering carriages.

Carnival of Acireale

Carnival of Acireale.

Carnival of Acireale. Photo by Alessandro Grussu

The Carnival of Acireale, the most beautiful Carnival in Sicily and the third in Italy, is the most ancient of the island. The parade of allegorical floats adorned with flowers is the main attraction of the festival.

The papier-mâché floats are crafted works, adorned with thousands of light bulbs and lighting and scenery continually changing during performances. Only these floats in the world use similar systems of lights and mechanical and hydraulic movements.

Carnival of Ivrea

The Carnival of Ivrea is famous for its spectacular Battle of oranges and the widespread custom of wearing a red cap, which is an invitation not to be hit by oranges. Battle of oranges is the largest food fight in Italy.

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The battle takes place in the main squares of the city: it occurs between the floats following the parade and the teams on the ground, protected by padded suits and leather masks to cover their face. The battle symbolizes the color of blood poured during revolutions and wars of the past.

Sartiglia of Oristano

Sartiglia of Oristano

Sartiglia is the most spectacular and choreographic Sardinian Carnival, of Medieval origin, which takes place in Oristano. The term refers to the race to the ring, an equestrian carousel tied to fate, to luck, to the pagan rites.

The protagonist is su Componidori, the knight’s name in Sardinian. The festival begins with the long ritual of dressing the knight: women, is Massaieddas in Sardinan, dress him with a white shirt, trousers and a leather jacket. They cover his face with an androgynous mask, a veil and a black top hat: man and woman at the same time, su Componidori becomes a sort of demigod.

The knight, after having blessed the crowd, starts the competition inserting first his sword into a star hung from a wire; then he chooses the riders who will have the honor of participating in the carousel.

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