The Italian Carnivals
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Maybe the most famous Carnival in the world is the one celebrated in Rio de Janeiro, with a mix of samba, dancers with colored feathers and streets full of people.

Italy celebrates Carnival in different ways, but Venice hosts the most famous Carnival.

It’s a very ancient Carnival, in fact it was founded in 1296 when the government of Venice decided to give the population a period dedicated to entertainment, dances and celebrations. This is the reason why Carnival has roots in common with The Turnals and the Bacchanals: Roman celebrations, where the social order was inverted.

At beginning, the Carnival of Venice was a very long period: it could start in october and finish before the Ash Wednesday (Mercoledì delle ceneri)!

The typical element of the Carnival is the mask: thanks to it you can hide your identity and feel freer. No one can judge you, if you wear a mask.

Among the typical masks we remember:

  • Larva: it’s a mask used by men and by women, it’s totally white and it’s completed by a black cloack (called “tabarro”). It was a comfortable mask, because it allowed to eat and drink without stopping wearing it (It would have been very convenient during the covid times!);

-Gnagna: it was a mask just for men who decided to dress up like women. Gnagna was a really simple costume, in fact you needed common women’s clothing and a mask with the appearance of a cat.

-Colombina: she rappresents the silly, but very pretty maid. Her clothings usually are full of colored rhombi.

-Arlecchino: he’s Colombina boyfriend and he’s a servant too: Arlecchino is not silly at all, but very very clever! His clothings are similar to Colombina’s.

-Pantalone: the master of Arlecchino and Colombina, he tries to court his beautiful maid, but he’s always deceveid by the clever Arlecchino. Pantalone is an old man attracted to young women and scarily miser! He wears a black mask, red clothings and a dark cloak.

(Colombina and Arlecchino)

These masks became characters of “Commedia dell’Arte” or “Commèdie-Italianne”; lots of dramas and comedies were written about them. The most famous are the comedies of Carlo Goldoni, a very famous Italian writer lived in 1700. Goldoni is considered one of the fathers of Modern Theater.

In the 1500’s a very singular tradition started: in fact a Turkish acrobat walked on a rope from San Marco’s bell tower to the belfry. This was the beginning of a tradition called “Volo dell’Angelo” (Angel’s flight): every year young guys from Venice challenged each other by doing this stunt. This tradition changed when there was a tragic incident: in the 1700’s an acrobat fell and died. Since this year the tradition changed and instead of the acrobat, a fake dove was flown, from which confetti fell on the crowd. This is the reason for why the name of this tradition became “Volo della Colombina” (Dove’s flight).

Recently this tradition changed again, in fact there isn’t a fake dove, but an acrobat, that flies on the people fastened to a rope in total safety. So “Volo dell’Angelo” is back!

The Angel’s Flight

Another famous Italian Carnival is celebrated in Viareggio (Tuscany).
It’s ancient too, in fact it was born in the 1800s.

The peculiarity of this Carnival is the presence of huge papier-mâché floats, that represent themes. They are authentic masterpieces and they are often satirical.

Every year there is a Festival to reward the most beautiful floats.

A very similar Carnival is hosted in Putignano.

Putignano is a little town near Bari (Apulia) and here people build papier-mâché floats, that parade escorted by music and dancing.

Carnival is celebrated with floats and great events in other Italian places: Sciacca (Sicily), Mamoada (Sardinia), Fano (Marche), Cento (Emilia Romagna)…


Another singular Italian Carnival is the one that takes place in Ivrea, Piemonte. It was born during 1500s and the most important moment is the “Battaglia delle arance” (Oranges’ battle). People on the floats (Who are called “arancieri”) and people on the ground fight each other throwing oranges. “Arancieri” are around twelve, but people on the ground are hundreds and hundreds.

In this tradition there’s a challenge too, in fact a commission awards a prize to the team that fought with the most value.

Ivrea – Oranges’ battle

Clearly in Italy Carnival is also an opportunity to prepare and eat delicious traditional foods, such as:

  • Chiacchiere (these treats are known with other names, for examples “Bugie” in Piemonte and Liguria or “Frappe” in Lazio): they are fried and crumbly sheets with icing sugar on the surface.
  • Castagnole: they are chestnut shaped balls, fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar. These can be filled with chocolate, jam or cream.
  • Zeppola di San Giuseppe: fried and very exquisite treats with cream and black cherry jam.
  • Schiacciata alla fiorentina: it’s a kind of doughnut with orange juice, baked in the oven.

Like Halloween, Carnival is a period full of tricks, in fact in Italy we usually say:

“A Carnevale ogni scherzo vale” – During Carnival every joke is allowed!