On the Carnival of Venice (Carnevale di Venezia), held annually, Venetians put on elaborate masks and costumes and turn the streets into a huge party. The carnival starts around two weeks before Ash Wednesday and ends on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. According to historical records, the first carnival was held in 1097, and for centuries the people of the city have very enthusiastically celebrated the days prior to Quaresima or Lent, the period of abstinence leading up to Palm Sunday. The word carnivale when divided in two, carne literally means meat and levare means to remove. The event was named so because during Lent eating meat is prohibited.
During the 18th century Venice became famous for its Carnival as celebrations would begin right after Epiphany on January 6 and the city would be brimming with the excitement of the frivolous masquerade. By 1797 when the republic ended, many practices changed and the tradition of Carnival celebrations was also cast off. Years later in the 1970’s the Carnival was revived when Venice dwellers began including the calli and campi in their own spontaneous celebrations. Soon the tourist industry realized the benefits of the revival as a means to stimulate business during slow season and since then, annually, over the 10- to 12-day Carnival period more than a half million people attend concerts, theater and street performances, masquerade balls, historical processions, fashion shows, and contests. The city becomes a beehive of activity as huge crowds roam the streets (which become one-way, with police directing pedestrians), bridges are selected as "no-stopping" zones to avoid gridlock, and prices start touching the sky!
For Carnival information:
Carnival guide: A Guest in Venice (www.aguestinvenice.com) provides free advertising to public and private event festivities.
General Carnival information: Consorzio Comitato per il Carnevale di Venezia (Santa Croce 1714, 30135. 041/717065; 041/2510811 during Carnevale. 041/5200410. www.carnevale.venezia.it)
The Tourist Office (041/5298711) has detailed information about daily events.