Carnival in Venice officially starts on Friday and will last until February 5. The swarms of people are starting to arrive today and tomorrow for the big event of the year. There was a quiet before the storm atmosphere yesterday as I was walking around and today you can feel the buzz starting.
Every day is filled with various events around the city. This years theme is Sensation: 6 Senses in 6 Sestieri (there are 6 sestieri or districts on the island). The sixth sense in this case is the brain as a whole. http://www.carnevale.venezia.it/
There are also several traditional balls to attend if one has the money. The most famous is called the Il Ballo del Doge. It costs about 800 euros to attend and that doesnt include the cost of the required 18th century Venetian costume that you must wear (rentals start at about 800-1000 euro for a 24 hour period). However, there is word that George Clooney will be at this ball, so it doesnt really seem all that expensive now!
Carnival started in Venice and has traversed the world in various forms. The US has Mardi Gras, Germany has Fasching, and almost every country has its own name. But, like most traditions, the original meaning has been long lost. The name Carnival comes from the Latin meaning Farewell, meat! and obviously has to do with fasting around the Lent tradition in Catholicism.
The history of the Venice Carnival tradition began after 1162. The Republic defeated Ulrico, Patriarch of Aquileia in that year, and began a tradition of slaughtering a bull and 12 pigs in the Piazza San Marco around Shrove Tuesday to commemorate the victory. This celebration gradually grew and 1268 dates the first document mentioning the use of masks. Masks made the Venetian Carnival unique. If you cannot identify the wearer of the mask, you do not know his social status and this made Carnival accessible and celebrated by all.
The eighteenth century was the heyday of Carnival. Venice's decline in power was accompanied by a conspicuous consumption of pleasure. This is probably the image that most of the world has of the Venetian Carnival--spurred on my Hollywood movies, of course!
Carnival's significance declined gradually through to the 1930s, when Mussolini banned it. In 1979, a group of Venetians and lovers of Venice decided to revive the tradition. Within a few years, the image of the masked reveller had become a worldwide icon of Venice in winter.
And in just a few days, I will don my mask and cape and roam around with the rest of the revelers pretending we are in another time. For all my time in Venice, this is my first Carnival and I am so looking forward to the activities--even if it does mean an excess of tourists!