Carnival time in Italy

By | Category: Travel destinations
carnival in venice

Carnival time © Italian National Tourist Board

Amongst the carnivals of the world, Venice stands out as the most glamorous with astonishing attention to detail, costumes that are historically accurate, flamboyant and colourful as well as those masks which could be considered works of art.

But it isn’t the only festival in Italy. February and early March is festival time in the country and here is a rundown of some of the biggest, the most popular and those that overlap half-term for those who want to take the kids to see something they will never see in the UK.

Starting with Venice, its carnival begins on February 11th and runs until the end of the month. Almost every part of Venice seems to be on show and you really do see people adorned in eighteenth century costumes stepping into gondolas in the evening moonlight. There are parades everywhere but the centre of events is St Mark’s Square where there will be shows hosting the carnival’s traditional events such as “Flight of the Angel” , “Festa delle Marie” and “La Colombina.” For those who want to join in, there are costume hire outlets and every hotel concierge will know someone can assist.

The carnival in Viareggio is different to that of Venice. For a start it happens on only five days in February; the 5th, 12th, 18th, 26th and the 28th. The key to this carnival is the huge – and I mean huge – papier-mache figures that travel on floats.  As the figures are meant to be satirical, some of the attraction might be lost to foreigners but you can still enjoy the floats, the food stalls, the parties and the street theatre.

battle of the oranges at Ivrea carnival

the Battle of the Oranges in Ivrea © Maurizio Gjivovich

At Ivrea, its carnival – the oldest in Italy – runs from the 11th of February all the way through to March and is quite unlikely any other. For a start there are pipe and drum bands opening the festival but the highpoint is the Battle of the Oranges on the 28th of February which is meant to represent the fight for liberty, the symbol of the Ivrea Carnival.

Near Arezzoo is a smallish town called Castiglion Fibocchi.  On the 12th and 19th of February they rival Venice for spectacular masks and costumes, the advantage being that visitors won’t be spending as much money as they might if they went to Venice.

In the Sicilian town of Acireale, the festival runs on the 18th, 19th and from the 23rd until the 28th of February. Unusual in that the carnival is twinned with that in Viareggio, this is one of the more historic carnivals in Italy. The eighteenth century costumes are common with Viareggio but here there is a more public atmosphere and everyone can join in, costumed or not, as the carnival wends its procession through the town.

South of Bari on the Adriatic coast of Italy is Putignano which hosts one of the oldest carnivals in the country. Held on the 12th, 19th, 26th and 28th of February it also has floats and masks, masquerades, food and wine but the festival mascot is a little unusual. It is called ‘Farinella’, after a local dish made ​​from chickpea and barley flour!

The Fano Carnival is the second oldest in Italy and this is the one that you might consider taking the younger kids to. Yes, it also has floats and masks, masquerades, shows and fireworks but it also has sweets. Tons of them are distributed from the floats each day accompanied by Arabita music played not just with musical instruments but other objects as well.

Image from the carnival at Ascoli Piceno ©

Not far from Fano  is the carnival that involves the towns of Ascoli Piceno, Castignano, Offida and Pozza. For centuries the events have been much the same. There is the classic Raviolata, (Ravioli Feast) the Caccia al Bove Finto (Hunt the Fake Ox) on February the 24th  in addition to the ever-present awards for the best masked groups, to parties for participants and for schools. At the Carnival of Offida, at nightfall of the Mardi Gras, the parade of “Vlurd” take place where hundreds of masked men and women, with long bundles of lit reeds on their shoulders, parade through Offida to the main square where the reeds are thrown on a bonfire and burnt to designate the end of carnival.

The most extravagant carnival, Cento in Emilia-Romagna, in Europe is (says he tourist board) twinned with the Brazilian carnival for the style of its floats, the beautiful costumes and for the tremendous fun as well as floats in papier-mache’. This carnival is on the 12th, 19th and the 26th of February as well as the 5th and 12th of Mar.

Bagolino carnival

participants at the Bagolino carnival
© Associazione Pro Loco Ufficio Turistico di Bagolino

The carnival of Bagolino, a small village near Lake Idro, is very different from other Italian carnivals and runs from just the 26th to the 28th of February. It is characterised by two different, yet inseparable figures: “The Balarì” and “The Mascher.” The origins of dances and music relating to the Balarì are of the 16th century while the origins of the Mascher seem to be older. The most spectacular aspect of the carnival of Bagolino is represented by the dancers, the Balarì, both for the richly adorned costume and for the melodies and dances. The pagan tradition is celebrated each year during the days preceding Shrove Tuesday.

The Verrès Carnival re-enacts every year an important event linked to a powerful local family called Challants. When Francesco Challant died without male heirs he left the title and inheritance to his daughter Caterina who became the main focus of the Carnival. The celebrations start on Saturday the 25th of February and take place mainly around the Castle in Verrès where people enjoy long nights of music and dancing. The highlight of the Monday is the theatrical performance of “A Chess Game” by Giuseppe Giacosa, followed by a “Grand Gala” while on the Tuesday, the last day of the Carnival, parades in costume, floats, folk musicians and dancers move through the streets of the village.

The great Carnival of Crema – Gran Carnevale Cremasco- has had a chequered past with stabbings and killings in centuries past. Nowadays everybody jeers: the” mascheroc” parade alongside the mascarú – the papier-mâché figures on the floats – with plenty of license to pull faces. For four Sundays (12th, 19th, 26th of February and the 5th of March) there are parades and street music – plus those jeers!

Finally, Arco in Lake Garda celebrates its carnival on two weekends – the 18th, 19th, 25th and 26th of February. This event is associated with the reawakening of life, local fairs and food. And yes, there is parade of floats that winds through the streets of the small town plus balls where guests are dressed in costumes from the Hapsburg period..

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