During this time of year, the streets of Italy are crowded with colorful costumes, elaborate masks, and confetti: the Carnevale celebrations are in full force!
What is Carnevale?
Like France's Mardi Gras, Carnevale is the final hurrah before the restrictions of Lent begin on Ash Wednesday (February 14). During the celebrations, which can last from a day to a month, revelers are free to eat, drink, and dance without reproof. From north to south, Italy boasts dozens of unique carnival traditions, from the Battle of the Oranges in Piemonte to the spectacular folk poets in Sicilia.
Ivrea: the battle of the oranges
A small city in northern Piemonte, Ivrea is fairly peaceful for most of the year. When Carnevale arrives, however, all bets are off. During the three days before Ash Wednesday, the townspeople reenact – with vigor – the Battle of the Oranges. The citrus-fueled fight stems from a local legend that a mugnaia, or miller’s daughter, refused to spend the night with the duke and chopped off his head, sparking a civil war. On the last day – today – the mugnaia leads a parade down the city center, celebrating the rebels’ triumph.
VENEZIA: Le Maschere
Venice carnival is among Italy’s most beloved Carnevale traditions. Since it was officially established in 1296, the two-week festival’s focus has been merrymaking under the freedom of le maschere, the masks. Today is no different: the city’s piazzas and canals are overflowing with locals and tourists alike, donned in intricate costumes and likely heading to a grand masquerade ball.
Nestled in northern Toscana, Viareggio tries to outdo itself each Carnevale with a month of extraordinary animated floats that become more intricate and outlandish year after year. Followed by masked all-night street parties, the Carnevale parades feature giant papier-mache caricatures of current and folkloric political and cultural figures. The tradition is so serious that the people of Viareggio will begin to plan next year’s floats tomorrow.
The ancient town of Putignano, Puglia, is home to the oldest and longest Carnevale in Italy. According to tradition, festivities begin December 26 with a feast for Santo Stefano and end tonight with a final parade and “funeral” for Carnevale. Throughout the nearly two months of the celebration, Putignano is bustling with masks, confetti, and floats.
ACIREALE: Folk Poets & Floats
Acireale is celebrated for hosting one of Sicilia’s most spectacular carnivals, featuring abbatazzi, folk poets who improvise verses on the street, along with the typical outrageous floats and elaborate costumes. In fact, Carnevale is so popular in Acireale that it is repeated in August, abbatazzi and all.