February in Italy, the month of Carnival

February in Italy, the month of Carnival

February in Italy is definitely a synonym for Carnival. A feast with origins dating far back, today it represents a folklore event where tradition and fun come together. Masks, confetti, lights and colour invade every city of Italy, creating a truly unique festive atmosphere.

History – The origins of Carnival lead back to the Roman Saturnalia, celebrated in honour of the new year. However, the term “carnival” very probably derives from Latin “carnem levare”: in ancient times, in fact, the expression referred to the banquet held on the last day just before abstinence and fasting from meat typical of Christian Lent began. In the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, in fact, Carnival comes between Epiphany (January 6) and Lent.

Carnivals in Italy  – From the north to the south of Italy, Carnivals with ancient traditions, some well known internationally, are celebrated.

Carnevale di Venezia [Photo Credits Stefano Menegatti]

Carnevale di Venezia [Photo Credits Stefano Menegatti]

One of the most famous and important is the Venice Carnival, established by the Venetian oligarchs to give the population a period devoted to fun and feasting. Its outstanding feature is the use of masks, meant to cancel any form of social, sexual or religious identity. Every year, the Venice Carnival turns the lagoon into a great and fascinating popular feast, considered unique for its history, atmosphere and disguises. During the weeks of Carnival, many events take place in the narrow streets and the squares of the town, but there are also many other events, such as private parties and masked balls inside the great Venetian palazzi, where one can live ancient splendours again. But the most fascinating moment, which each year brings in countless tourists, is the spectacular Angel’s Flight, when an artist climbs down a rope from the bell tower of Saint Mark’s to the Doge’s Palace.

Carnevale di Viareggio [Photo Credits stilyoung]

Carnevale di Viareggio [Photo Credits stilyoung]

In Tuscany, the key event is the Carnival of Viareggio, one of the most appreciated in the world. It has a rather peculiar history, having begun in 1873 as a masked demonstration by the rich bourgeois complaining of having to pay too many taxes but, as time went by, it turned into the event we know today. The true stars of the Viareggio Carnival are the large and colourful allegorical floats which parade along the seaside avenue of the town every weekend of February, carrying enormous paper mache caricatures of people famous in politics, culture and show business. These spectacular floats reveal a perfect match between the artistic skills of Tuscan craftsmen and their mastery of technology.
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Carnevale Ivrea [Photo Credits Sebastiano Rossi]

Carnevale Ivrea [Photo Credits Sebastiano Rossi]

Another historic Italian carnival takes place in Ivrea, in the province of Turin. First held in 1808, it is famous for the picturesque Battle of the Oranges. This carnival, in fact, commemorates the civil war which broke out between the populace and royal troops after the Miller’s daughter killed the hated tyrant, Raineri di Biandrate. During the battle, teams of orangemen on foot (representing the people) defend their piazze from orangemen on floats (representing the army), throwing oranges (which represent arrows) at each other, while the procession of the Miller’s daughter proceeds through the streets of the town, distributing sweets and gifts to the population.

Carnevale Acireale [Photo Credits Flavia Curcuraci]

Carnevale Acireale [Photo Credits Flavia Curcuraci]

Sicily boasts one of the most rich traditions associated with carnival. The Carnival of Acireale, in the province of Catania, dates back to the late sixteenth century, and used to be accompanied by a citrus fruit battle. Today, it is famous for the procession of floats, some allegorical, some covered with flowers. Then there is the ancient Carnival of Sciacca, renowned for the beauty of its paper mache works made by local ceramics masters. During February, beautiful allegorical floats proceed through the centre of the town, accompanied by masked groups which give life to choreographies with theme music. Every year, the Carnival finishes with a bonfire where the Carnival King Peppe Nappa and his float are burnt.