Costumes of the carnival in Venice

“Carnevale” is one of the most colorful celebrations in the world!

In Italy, we are serious about it. In the end, this is where it was born.

Carnival in Venice is a one-of-a-kind celebration suspended between past and present with a traditional local allure featuring many events. Among these, the two-day ‘Festa Veneziana’ with its typical masked regattas, the ‘Best Masked Costume Contest’ and the ‘Festa delle Marie’. Each year, Carnival includes celebrations whose history dates back to the times of the ‘Serenissima’, such as the famous eagle flight or the well-known ‘Flight of the Angel‘, to name but a few. Carnival in Venice is the purest example of the perfect meld of tradition, culture and entertainment all in one.

This is a magical time in Venice. A visual feast. A giant step back to a time where the rich and famous, and infamous, donned mask and costume to participate in decadent, hedonistic pleasures of pre-lent. Lavish costumes are rented or purchased from talented Venetian ateliers or designed and created at home by talented Carnival attendees. Carnival provides a theatrical backdrop to Venice’s iconic scenery, and everyone in costume is expected to play their part. Venetian costume balls are a highlight of Carnival for those who can afford tickets to party the night away in Venice’s most exclusive private palaces. The year’s most opulent event is the “Il Ballo del Doge”, described by Vanity Fair as “the most sumptuous, refined and exclusive ball in the world.”

Are you looking for the most magical time of the year to visit Venice? Well look no further than “Carnevale” season! This is the time (February/March) of year when a wintry Venice comes alive with magic and mystery all in an effort to have maximum fun before Lent starts. Here are six ways to enjoy “Carnevale” in Venice:

  1. Wear a historical Venetian costume. Be sure to don a mask and parade along the alleys, bridges and squares. One can rent costumes anywhere from 400 Euros a day and up.
  2. Once you’ve got the costume, the ultimate “Carnevale” experience is to attend a masked ball. The Luna Hotel Baglioni hosts a 6-hour extravaganza complete with opera performances. Or enjoy Dinner Dansante “Le Menuet” at the Hotel Danieli where a dance master and a baroque quartet will involve people into traditional group dances such as minuets.
  3. Whether you’re going to a ball or not (depending on your budget), don’t miss the chance to learn Cotillion dancing, an essential part of any “Carnevale” costume ball. The Cotillion is a French dance dating back to early 18th century. The lady had a starring role in the “dance-game”: it was her role to entice her desired partner so he would invite her to dance. Little gifts were handed out at the end of the dance.
  4. Take a “Carnevale” themed photo tour of Venice. La Serenissisma is ideal to photograph year-round but with all of the folks parading around in colorful masks and costumes, now is a great time to get out the camera and venture into lesser-known Venice neighborhoods such as Castello and Cannaregio.
  5. Curious about Venetian cocktails? Take a “Carnevale” Pub Crawl. At the first three bars, enjoy an “ombra” or a glass of local wine, and at the final bar you will have the chance to try the popular Venetian Spritz.
  6. Learn the secrets of Venice’s “Carnevale” with a special walking tour. Follow in the steps of adventurer Giacomo Casanova’s 18th century Venice “Carnevale”. A guide will immerse you in the history of “Carnevale” as well as the use of masks and how they are made. The tour ends with a hot cappuccino and a typical Italian carnival pastry, frittelle.

If you would like a complete Venice Carnival experience, with the activities above for your very own small group of friends or family, contact me

Beautiful costumes of the carnival in Venice

Beautiful costumes of the Carnival in Venice-Photo by Audrey De Monte

Where did the idea of Carnevale come from?

During the 40 days of Lent, parties and eating foods like meat, sugar and fats were not allowed. As a result, people would try to fill up on rich food and drink before Lent. In fact, the word Carnevale comes from the Latin words carnem levare which means “farewell to meat”.  Venice’s Carnival was first recorded in 1094 but did not become official until 1296 when the senate declared the day before the beginning of Lent (Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday) a public holiday.

The tradition of wearing a mask started in the 13th century when Venetians would hold celebrations and parties from December 26th until the start of Lent and wear elaborate masks to conceal their identity in everyday life. The wearing of the masks was the only time when the lower and upper classes mingled together. Aristocrats and peasants, disguised by their masks, played out their fantasies together. By the 18th century, Venetians were allowed to wear masks for six months out of the year allowing them to indulge in illicit activities like gambling and clandestine affairs. Black velvet masks, for example, would be worn in “houses of ill repute”, especially gambling parlors, to shield identities.

Venetian Masks were the solution for perfect disguise. Wearing masks let married women mingle with male crowds without revealing their true identities. Masks in the earlier days were rather simple in design and decoration and they often had a symbolic and practical function.  Masks were produced for centuries in Venice by the Early Venetian mascareri and still today are made from papier-mâché, Porcelain and leather, in many different colors and styles.

Venetian Masks can be classified under two major groups: Commedia Dell’Arte and Carnival Masks. Both of these have several characters, some gender specific, and many have legends attached to them. Commedia Dell’Arte is translated from Italian to mean “comedy of professional artists” and was a form of improvisational theater that was popular during the 16th through the 18th centuries. Traveling teams of actors would set a stage outside and provide amusement to passers by juggling, acrobatics, and humorous plays based on a repertoire of established characters with a rough story line called “Canovaccio“. Their performances were improvised and used stock situations such as jealousy, old age, love and adultery.

Carnival in Venice has not always been celebrated. The fall of the Republic in 1798, at the hands of Napoleon, marked the end of the long independence of Venice and the abolition of the many traditions of the Venetian Carnival for about two centuries. Venetian Carnival was also outlawed by the fascist government in the 1930’s but was reborn in 1979 when a group of Venetian artisans banned together to restart Carnival.

Today, the Carnival in Venice is an alluring festival that pulls in thousands of spectators; a tradition that casts its spell on whoever crosses its path. Escape from the mundane everyday life and immerse yourself in the fantasy of this amazing festival!  Women sashaying in exquisite gowns and men clad in clever disguises.

It’s not Carnival without fatty, greasy, tasty food…!


Foods to enjoy during carnival time in Venice, fritelle

Venetian Frittelle for Carnival-Photo by Audrey De Monte

100 g / 2/3 cup raisins

120 ml / 1/2 cup ‘grappa’, ‘eau-de-vie’ or anise liqueur

500 g / 3 2/3 cups plain flour, sifted

Pinch of salt

15 g / 1 tablespoon active dry yeast

80 g / 1/3 cup caster sugar, plus more for dusting

Grated zest of 1 un-waxed lemon

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

50 g / 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

50 g / 1/3 cup candied citrus peel (optional)

240 ml / 1 cup whole milk, lukewarm

Sunflower oil, for frying

Icing sugar, for dusting

Soak the raisins in ‘grappa’ and leave to plump up.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, yeast and lemon zest. Make a well in the center and break in the eggs, then, using a fork, start to incorporate them into the flour. Add the pine nuts, candied citrus peel (if using) and the raisins with their soaking liquid. Pour in the milk, too, and stir with a wooden spoon until it all comes together into a sticky dough. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until doubled in size and very bubbly on the surface.

Next, heat the oil in a deep, medium-sized skillet over a low-medium heat. Once hot (180°C/350°F), grab two tablespoons and use them to shape your ‘frittelle’. Take a dollop of dough as big as a walnut and give it a round-ish shape using both spoons, then slip it into the hot oil. Repeat in batches, frying about 5-6 ‘frittelle’ at the time. Fry them on both sides until dark brown all around. Drain with a slotted spoon and transfer them to a large plate lined with absorbent paper towels.

Leave the ‘frittelle’ to cool before dusting them with icing sugar. They are best enjoyed freshly made.

Planning a European vacation? Audrey helps you make your vacation to Europe truly memorable by creating a unique itinerary that promises a personal experience you will not find anywhere else. Contact Audrey to book your very own private tour to Spain with an exclusive itinerary designed around your wishes.  

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Audrey De Monte

About Audrey De Monte

Born in New York City, raised in Western Africa, I have studied, lived and worked on three continents (Africa, Europe and North America), and have traveled extensively throughout the world. Travel has shaped my life, who I am, how I look at the world and continues to be my biggest teacher. Together with my native Italian husband, we speak 5 languages. Western Europe is my backyard, in particular Spain, France, Germany, and Italy—countries where I have spent my life, since early childhood, visiting family, friends, studying, living and working.