Italian carnival is renowned all over the world for its manifold declinations, traditions and events. This festivity usually takes place between February and March (from fat thursday to mardi gras) and literally takes the boot by storm. So grab a costume, set out on an adventure (your little ones will love it!) and try them all – here are some of the best places to experience Italian Carnevale!
The Battle of the Oranges in Ivrea
Held in the Northern Italian city of Ivrea, this is the largest food fight in Italy… so some juicy fruity Vitamin-C-filled fun is guaranteed! The origins of this Italian carnival are still quite unclear but legend has it that this event commemorates a young lady, known as Violetta, who had the courage to fight against the feudal “droit du seigneur” by beheading the evil tyrant and liberating the city. During the battle of the oranges thousands are divided into teams and armed to the teeth with ripe citrus fruits. Locals serve rich dishes of beans, codfish with polenta and, last but not least, orange salad! We’re sure that a nice glass of Chianti Classico red wine would do the trick after a day of zesty blows and such a hearty meal.
Masqueraded beauty in Venice
This is probably the most renowned Italian carnival because of its elaborate masks and breathtaking setting. It is said to date back to 1162, when the “Serenissima Repubblica” defeated Ulrico di Treven, patriarch of the ancient Roman city of Aquileia and the people rejoiced by gathering and dancing in the San Marco square. Throughout the centuries Venice’s Carnival has undergone many transformations (it was also outlawed in 1797 when the city was under the King of Austria’s rule, only to return in late 1979!) but its leitmotif praises the often-forgotten beauty and light-heartedness of life. About 3 million visitors walk the canals in search of gilded colorful masks donned by damsels and gentlemen alike. The most beautiful mask actually wines a prize!
Satire and caricatures in Viareggio
This Italian Carnival’s main characteristic will not pass unnoticed and is quite representative of Tuscay’a pungent sense of humour: just imagine a promenade filled with huge floats depicting some of the most outrageous caricature! Politicians, showmen and women, symbols of today’s corruption: a true bonfire of the vanities on full display! This Italian Carnival was held for the first time in 1873 when a group of wealthy men, who had decided to parade flower-adorned floats down the promenade, sparked the anger of the tax-paying middle class who protested by wearing masks. The symbol of the carnival of Viareggio and its official mask is Burlamacco, designed and invented by Uberto Bonetti in 1930. If you’re around Viareggio at any time of the year, we suggest visiting the Cittadella del Carnevale, the huge industrial workshop space where these paper-pulp giants are built and stored. Don’t forget to launch your fair share of coriandoli and try brigidini, typical anise-flavoured wafers that can be easily found at local stands during carnival – they’re great with Vin Santo!
A Carnival fit for sweet-tooths: Fano
Dating back to 1347, probably to celebrate a very much desired reconciliation between the two main families of Fano, this Italian Carnival is said to be the sweetest of them all! Every year this lovely town in the Marche Region hosts a music-filled parade down central Gramsci street where each float partakes in the “gettata” – a majestic candythrow (almost 2 tons!) that ends up into the happy hands of all Carnivalgoers! The event ends with on Mardi Gras with the burning of the “pupo” (a papier mache puppet head) which is meant to beckon Spring and dispel the population’s sins.
The dark side of Italian Carnival: Mamoiada
The island of Sardinia is known for its coarse, beautiful and wild landscape and beaches and its Carnival is equally as visually striking. The medieval town of Mamoiada, not far from Nuoro, is renowned for its artisanal pear wood masks called “Mamuthones”, meant to represent shepherds, and “Issohadores”, which represent the scary invaders (perhaps inspired by the Spanish or Turkish tyrants who once walked the island’s shores). If you are in Sardinia during another time of the year, don’t forget to drop by Mamoiada’s evocative Museum of Mediterranean masks. During the Carnival celebrations, the black Mamuthones cover themselves in black leather and cowbells and measure the streets with small, rhythmic steps, followed by the colorful yet menacing Issohadores who now and then entertain the bystanders by lassoing in audience members with a rope. This solemn dance procession might seem less fun than the aforementioned Italian Carnival celebrations but it is nevertheless worth a visit and the sweets are to-die-for!