One of the most famous carnivals all over the world the Carnival of Venice has not lost an inch of its charm and its magic atmosphere though some celebrations went a little undertone some years ago but…those few miserable years have been since long forgotten and nowadays Venice is THE PLACE TO BE during the Carnival period. (15th February to March 4th 2014)

What makes the Carnival in Venice so unique?

1.  Origin:

The first reports of a celebration which could be the “ancestor” of the present carnival bring back to 1162, approx 900 years ago! The Doge, the political leader of Venice,  imposed a symbolical punishment to the Patriarca of a nearby town: if the Patriarca and his 12 supporters wished to be set free, he had to send a war chest of 1 bull and 12 pigs to be slaughtered each and every year from that moment onwards. The victims accepted and the men were set free. The smell of the roasted meat served to Venetian nobles could be sensed as far as the Patriarca’s town, repeating the defeat and the shame each year.

2.  History:

From 1162 onwards, the Carnival event has been evolving and extended its celebration all through the year taking advantage of two capital elements of Venice life: an ironical vision of earth matters typical of the Venetians who have always loved to have fun and the richness of the city. Feasts and celebrations were such a consistent part of everyday life that specific associations, the “Compagnie della Calza”, whose aim was the organization of games, performances, dances and so on appeared in the XV century.  In XVIII century the feast was so important for the city that the first events started in October. Let’s not forget Carnival has always been a profitable period for Venice: it has always attracted tourists from all over the world and brought “sghei”, the local word for “money”, to the Serenissima deposits.

3. Games:

Through its 900 years of life, locals and “foresti”, the Venetian word for “foreigners”, have had fun with an incredible series of games:

“Hercules’ pyramids”: Castellani party, the Venetians living in the central part of the city, and Nicolotti, the ones living outside the inner part of Venice, challenged each other building human pyramids which “were extremely beautiful and were designed according to the most ambitious architectural structures such as Babylon Tower”

“The Angel flight”: previously known as “The flight of the Turk” as it was first performed by a Turk who flew over St Mark’s Square suspended by a rope in mid XVI century, the “flying man” was then replaced by a wooden dove pouring confetti on the crowd and nowadays by a nice young girl, “The Angel” who flies safely supported by security ropes over St Mark’s square.

“The Moresca dance”: now almost completely disappeared, the “Moresca” was a mix of a dance and a “hand to hand combat” inspired by the fights between Christians and Moors.

“The momarie”: long and colorful processions of masks crossing the city “calli” and bridge.


4. Masks:

One piece masks or full size disguise, the mask has always been part of the Venetian Carnival

“Bauta” is the unisex white or black mask to be worn on the face so as to hide the facial lines.

“Moretta” alike is a black mask to wear on your face. No hole for your mouth just two holes for eyes. The “Moretta” was originally held in position by biting a little support at the mouth level, a kind of button. Unpractical? Well, it may seem so but remember masks were an easy way to perform little illegal acts during a period when habits were more relaxed but still hiding was preferable so…making oneself recognizable because of an unprompted reply could cost one’s life. Practicality could well be sacrificed.

“Harlequin”: some masks were real “full size mask” aiming at disguise the whole figure. Harlequin was and is one of the best known and its origins come from the Italian “Commedia dell’arte”. A miserable farmer dressed in a multicolor mask dress whose only patrimony is his smartness and a legendary hunger.

“Colombina”: again a “full size mask”, she is usually the female counterpart of the above mentioned Harlequin whose smartness she shares.Her mask dress can either be “a light pink or green dress” or a colorful dress.

5. Carnival doughnutsfritole venexiane: “Fritola” or “Galano”:

That’s the question! From the day of Epiphany, 6th of January, traditional end of Christmas holidays, till the end of the Carnival period and the beginning of the Quaresima period (the 40 days preceding the Easter Sunday), Venice smell is a combination of syrup, sugar and …any ingredients Venetian bakeries find appropriate for their “fritole” and “galani”.

Do you want to try your hands with some easy recipes and make a surprise to your hosts?Here we go and… we wait for your bakery work of arts:

“Fritole venessiane, venesiane o venexiane”: 1 cup of milk, 30 g yeast, white flour, raisins, candied citrons, pine nuts, some grappa, grated zest of lemon , sugar and olive oil for frying.  Stir the milk with the yeast until it dissolves. Add the eggs, sugar, salt and melted butter. Add the flour and work vigorously until the dough becomes smooth. Add raisins, candied citrons, pine nuts and zest. Keep on working so as to mix all ingredients perfectlyLeave the dough into the bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Allow to rise until doubled in volume (about 1 hour) in a warm place. Preheat the oil in the deep fryer to medium-high heat (190°C /375°F). Form into small balls of dough. Fry in the hot oil, a few at a time, about 2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towel and roll each fritter in the sugar. Serve warm

“Galani”: 250 g white flour, 2 eggs, 25 g butter, yeast, orange grated zest, a spoonful of liqueur, 30 g sugar, salt and olive oil for fryingMix the flour and yeast with melted butter, sugar, eggs, the orange zest and the liqueur.Work the dough vigorously and when you’ll have soft homogeneous dough, just leave it rest for approx 30 min under a cloth in a cool place.Roll out the dough and cut small pieces according to your creativity BUT please do not forget the traditional “galani” come in long rectangular shapes with a generous sprinkle of sugar on them.

Not wanting to set your kitchen on fire?

Here it is a list of the best places where to taste the real “Fritole venexiane”

Pasticceria dal Mas – you will not be able to resist the “fritole con la crema” (carnival doughnuts with cream)Lista di Spagna – Careggio 149/150 A Venice

Pasticceria Majer – a joy for eyes and mouth. Many shops around the city – our favorite one is in Giacomo Dall’Orio  Santa Croce 1658 Venice

Pasticceria Rizzardini – Venice and Paris in an ode to greediness: Zabaione or Chantilly cream in Venetian “fritole”Località San Polo 1415 Venice.

It is Carnival time and kids are at home?

Share some fun with them: make your own “Venetian” mask in a few steps following easy suggestions clicking on How to make a Masks for venetian Masquerate

Not an artist yourself? Never had any manual skills and not even the slightest sense of art?Well, no panic!

Do not miss the joy of wearing a mask and walk the Venetian calli and bridges disguised as a XVII century mademoiselle belonging to the court of King Luis XVI, the SunRent a mask at Nicolao Atelier And at Marega Atelier 

Wear your “bauta”, grab your “fritola” and meet me down at Campiello!

Once properly disguised as the Carnival requires, it’s time to go and show off! Ironically enough, masks are meant to hide people’s identities but masks essence is to be admired in all its beauty and extravagance.The “must to be” places where to make a special appearance are:St Mark’s square

Caffé Florian

Caffè dei Quadri

Caffè Lavena

Rialto Bridge

Riva del Carbon

Riva del Vin

Riva Schiavoni

Accademia Bridge

Where to stay for a couple of days during Carnival in Venice: so close and so far

Thinking of joining the mad crowd of the masks in Venice? Afraid of the mass of tourists, of high prices and low quality of touristic places? Well, follow our suggestion.

B&B corte Mirandolina: a few minute’s train travel from Venice in Mestre.

B&B Venice House –Le Guglie: a perfect basecamp for Venice… and Padua, and Treviso and more little Veneto region gems!

And now…just get your camera with you and share with Italy Green the best shots of your Carnival…be it in Venice, Viareggio or anywhere your travel brings you.

You might also like:

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The most incredible labyrinths in Italy

Lighthouse holiday according to Virginia Woolf style


Cover photo by j/\x80, via Flickr

Author: Cristiana Pedrali

"Loving your job is the closest you can get to happiness on earth” (Rita Levi Montalcini) and “when real people fall down in real life they get back on their feet and carry on walking” (Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City): these are my two mantras. I’m a bit like this: I go through being serious to playful to help me manage a thousand different interests and commitments, keeping a smile through it all. I work in the tourism industry and on the web and every so often I look for some breathing space through reading and travel!
More posts by Cristiana Pedrali →

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