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Hotel Carlton on the Grand Canal
Hotel Carlton on the Grand Canal
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Venice Carnival

Venice Carnival

The Venice Carnival was always one of the most popular feasts in the city, and records documenting this event go back as far as the eleventh century.

 

Venice Carnival - history and Traditions

The meaning of carnival dates back to a Christian interpretation of the Latin “carne levare” or carnelevarium, which means “to remove meat. As a religious formality Ash Wednesday obliged people to fast and as a result people needed to use up meat, butter and eggs. This became an excuse for a party that echoed pagan festivities.

The Venice Carnival was always one of the most popular feasts in the city, and records documenting this event go back as far as the eleventh century.

The Venice Carnival tradition started in 1162 with the celebration of the victory of Doge Vitale Michele II over the Patriarch Ulrico of Aquileia. The tradition began with slaughtering of a bull and 12 pigs in the Piazza San Marco to commemorate the victory. This celebration gradually grew and in 1268 the first use of masks for the Carnival was mentioned in documents.

From the mid-1400s until the endof 1500s, Carnival festivities began to be regulated due to the excessive misbehavior and transgressions of the masked crowds. Several Popes tried to bring the Carnival within proper religious limits, but they weren’t able to influence Venice.

It was characterized by its magnificent masquerades, masked balls and feast, rather than by street processions and parades which were common elsewhere
The extravaganza of carnival merrymaking culminated in the 1700s. The festivities lasted for nearly 6 months and attracted tourism from all over Europe. The Carnival began the first Sunday in October and continued until Christmas. After a short break, it picked up again from January 6 (Epiphany) and lasted until midnight on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. During these days, Venice was known as the European center of libertinism a center of gambling and courtesans.

In 1797 the Napoleonic invasion brought an end to the fun and games. Napoleon abolished a thousand year old Republic as well as the Carnival to undermine the city’s cultural identity and keep control over its citizens. Then, by the Treaty of Campo Formio, he ceded the city of Venice to Austria.
In the 1800s, during Austrian rule, masks were banned. Venice was no longer a city with an annual Carnival tradition. Occasional Carnivals were held on and off until the 1930s, at which point Mussolini officially banned them.

In 1979, the municipality successfully revived the tradition of the Venice Carnival, reestablishing Venice as the world’s finest carnival destination.
Nowadays the heavily subsidized celebrations draw revelers from all over the world.