A Short History of Venice Carnival & Some of Its Popular Masks

28 February 2023
By Sarah Angela Almaden
Japanese House
Unsplash: Micky White

Even though it’s still winter in Venice, February in Italy's floating city is still warmer than January. Maybe it’s because romance is in the air around this time of the year. Or maybe it’s because the grandeur of Carnevale is just right around the corner. Whatever the reason is, Febbraio (February) in Venice is as extremely vibrant and extravagant as you would imagine thanks to the Venetian Carnival.
Japanese House
Unsplash: Edoardo Maresca

When is the Carnival of Venice (Carnevale di Venezia)?
The Carnevale is an annual festival in Venice that is celebrated in February and it ends on Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday, right before Lent begins. What is the Carnival of Venice (Carnevale di Venezia) about?
Even though the Venice Carnival has been celebrated for centuries, its beginnings are a little hazy. Legend has it that the first one took place in 1162 after the Venetian Republic defeated Ulrico de Treven, the patriarch of Aquileia. As a result, people began to gather in Piazza San Marco to celebrate the victory. The festival then experienced a great increase in popularity in the 17th and 18th centuries since it encouraged debauchery and very wild parties. Unfortunately, after being taken over by Napoleon Bonaparte, Venice lost its independence and fell under the control of Emperor Francis II of the Austrian Empire. With the shift of power, the Venetian Carnival and the wearing of masks were completely outlawed, and all of these restrictions lasted for about 200 years. It was around the 19th century that the Carnival made a brief comeback, where it essentially evolved into a venue for creative expression. Then in 1979, the Italian government decided to revive the Carnival to promote the local Venetian culture. Thereafter, the streets of Venice quickly filled up with masqueraders donning the most lavish attire and elaborate masks, reawakening the spirit of the legendary Venice Carnival.

Carnival Masks

The Venetian Carnival masks allowed revelers the opportunity to indulge in excessive pleasure, gambling, political killings, and other acts because the masks they wore provided them with anonymity.