By Margo Lestz
Carnival celebrations take place around the world, but when we think of elegant masks and beautiful costumes, we think of Venice. So this year my husband and I decided to go and see for ourselves what the Venice Carnival was like. We weren’t disappointed.
People come from everywhere to see and be seen at the Venice carnival. Many spend countless hours making their extravagant costumes, then they patiently pose in the piazzas to be admired and photographed.
You don’t have to wear a costume, of course. There are plenty people in street clothes, with and without masks. If you would like to wear a fancy costume but don’t have the time or sewing skills required to make your own, no worries! You can buy or rent costumes in Venice and you will find thousands of masks to choose from. But if you wear glasses, like me, your selection is very limited.
Couples, families, and groups come in matching costumes and some bring the dog along in his own little carnival cape. Even a lion standing outside a hotel wears a disguise.
Mask wearing in Venice goes back at least to the 1200s. During the Middle Ages in Venice, masks gained popularity and could be worn most of the year. They concealed the identity so a person was free to do things that he might not do otherwise. Masks were even mandatory for certain things like gambling and voting.
In the late 1700s Austria conquered Venice and the Venetian Republic came to an end. The new government outlawed the carnival and mask wearing. In fact, the Venice Carnival only regained its glory fairly recently. In 1979, a group of art students decided to revive the craft of papier mâché mask-making which had been such a part of Venice’s past. This was a great success and now these beautiful masks are inextricably linked with Venice, where they are still handmade and reasonably priced.
So, if you go, make sure you have extra room in your suitcase for the mask (or masks) that you will want to take home. I had to buy a new suitcase to get mine home.
You might also like:
- Carnival Kings, Silly Strings, and Blooming Things – The Carnival in Nice, France has a long history.
- “G” for Guy: Guy Fawkes and his Vendetta – The modern practice of using masks for anonymity.
- Nice, France: Her Relationship with Italy and how she became French – Why this city is not Italian.