Carnevale: Masked Balls, Orange Throwing, and Paper Maiché – Oh My!
Carnevale in any country is a brilliant experience, filled with theatrics, vibrant pomp and circumstance, and maybe a little mayhem. There are colorful and exuberant celebrations all over Italy, but a few stand out as the ones not to miss. Each has its own traditions making them memorable and something to try at least once.
As the most well-known and beloved Carnevale in all of Italy, Venice hosts a two-week long festival under the freedom of le maschere, or the masks. About 3 million people travel to Venice every year just for Carnevale.
After hours of walking through the streets showcasing their costumes and graciously posing for all photo op requests, participants are likely attending one of the many masquerade balls hosted across the city. These festive balls are hosted by most of the higher-end hotels, which means they can get expensive and also require booking a reservation well in advance. But events are hosted in every sestiere, or district, with the main events centered in the Piazza San Marco or nearby Piazzetta.
The actual date of the Carnevale is the last day of the festival, Shrove Tuesday or the day before Ash Wednesday. During the entire two weeks, there are all sorts of events and entertainment every day and night, and the costumes aren’t reserved just for the final evening; they are front and center throughout the carnival.
If you plan to bring the kids, they will love the parades along the Grand Canal with all sorts of boats and gondolas decorated and filled with those in costume. Or head to the Carnevale created just for children in the Cannaregio district.
And on the very last night, there’s an incredible fireworks display shot from the waterfront near the Piazza San Marco, making it visible from just about any spot you choose.
If it’s the food you’re most interested in, you have to try the frittelle, or fritters. These irresistible fried pieces of dough can either be served plain or filled with something decadent like custard, chocolate, or, heaven help us, nutella. And they won’t be hard to find – street vendors will be selling them all over town.
In a small city in the northern part of Piedmont, they host one of the more unusual events. In the town of Ivrea they celebrate with what is called the Battle of the Oranges.
According to legend, a miller’s daughter named Violetta refused to spend the night with the duke and instead chopped his head off which sparked a civil war. So now on the last day of the carnival festivities, a young woman is selected to play Violetta and lead the townspeople in a parade through the city center where her triumph is celebrated by orange throwing at the end of the parade.
If getting knocked about with a sticky citrus ball is not on your bucket list, you can don a red hat letting participants know you won’t be throwing oranges and hopefully can steer clear of any collateral damage. Instead, you can cheer them on from a comfortable distance.
At the end of the battle, they erect and burn a scarli, which is a big pole covered in dry bushes, to mark the end of the carnival season.
If pummeling fruit at one another isn’t your thing, you can make your way to Viarregio in northern Tuscany for one of the biggest Carnevale celebrations in all of Italy.
On several days throughout the entire month, they host parades that feature enormous animated floats with huge paper maiché caricatures that depict political and cultural figures of both past and present. A feast for the eyes, these incredible and artistic displays are quite imposing as they drift across the skyline one by one.
Apparently, they are so serious about their famous event that they start planning for next year’s floats the day after.
The town is filled with a variety of cultural and entertainment events, music concerts, masked balls, and an enormous fireworks finale. Restaurants offer special menus just for Carnevale, and street vendors provide specialty items such as fritters and custard to satisfy the sweet tooth.
Have we enticed you to book a trip for next years Carnevale?
See more of our series on Carnevale:
Shake off your Inhibitions, It's Carnevale