The Venice Carnival is held annually in February starting two Saturdays before and finishing one day before Ash Wednesday . The Carnival is known as Mardi Gras.

For more information on the actual dates and events during the Carnival check out the Municipality of Venice website and the Carnival of Venice website.

History of the Venice Carnival  
As a religious formality Ash Wednesday obliged people to fast and as a result people needed to use up meat, butter and eggs. This became an excuse for a party that echoed pagan festivities and the word carnival was derived from the Latin for "Farewell, meat!".

After the Republic defeated the Patriarch of Aquileia in 1162 the Carnival tradition began with the slaughtering of a bull and 12 pigs in the Piazza San Marco to commemorate the victory. This celebration gradually grew and in 1268 the first use of masks for the Carnival was mentioned in documents.

Christianity licensed a period of celebration from the Twelfth Night before Ash Wednesday until the midnight of Shrove Tuesday. Several Popes tried to bring the Carnival within proper religious limits, but they weren’t able to influence Venice.

In the eighteenth century the Carnival reached it’s heyday. Although Venice declined in power it continued to enjoy it’s pleasures. Over time Carnival's significance declined until the 1930s, when Mussolini banned it. In 1979, a group of lovers of Venice decided to revive the tradition. The image of the masked reveller has now become a worldwide icon of Venice in winter.

Venice Carnival masks
The Venetian Carnival has become unique because of the masks. The idea being that the social status of the wearer is hidden by the mask. In this way Venice was able to temporarily overturn her social order. Some of the masks depicted Commedia dell'Arte characters. Others were more sinister. The white-beaked mask of the plague-doctor, famous from photographs, copies a doctor's long breathing apparatus that held a sponge soaked in vinegar, thought to hold the plague at bay. Severe penalties were implemented if a mask was worn outside of the Carnival period due to the dangers masks allowed.

Today Masks are sold year round in Venice and can be anything from a basic Mask to the very exotic.

The revelers in Masks range from Costumed party goers on their way to the many Corporate parties held during the Carnival, to those who dress for the photographers in St Marks Square, to tourists in jeans, and the more sinister looking revelers in black capes and masks.

Of course there are Vendors with Canvas Chairs and Color Boxes on every corner looking to create makeup for anyone who isn’t wearing a mask.

Author's Bio: 

My name is Avril Betts, I am originally from England and now a Canadian Citizen, I have over 25 years experience in all aspects of Travel and Tourism, including running an online agency for over 13 years. I hold a CHA (Certified Hotel Administrator) an internationally recognized accreditation and in 1996 hosted the president's wives luncheon for the G7 conference.

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