The Carnival has ancient origins and its roots dates back in the Latin feast of Saturnalia and the Greek feast of Dionysian cults celebrating the start of spring. But although they can be traced back to pagan times, carnivals as we know them began in Europe with the rise of Christianity as a pre-lent festival. The carnival starts in many Roman Catholic countries in the last days and hours before the Lenten season.
The word carnival (carnevale in Italian), probably derives from the Latin "carnem levare" or "carnelevarium", which means to take away or remove meat. The phrase depicting a time dedicated to preparing for the rigours of Lent, a period encompassing the forty days preceding Easter and during which meat and the pleasures of the flesh are renounced.
Venice Carnival is without doubt one of the most famous and charming Carnival in the world and it draws countless tourists. The tradition of the carnival started in 1162, when Venice being a small but a strong republic ("Repubblica della Serenissima") defeated Ulrico, Patriarch of Aquileia, and began a tradition of slaughtering a bull and 12 pigs in the Piazza San Marco to commemorate the victory. This celebration gradually grew and 1268 dates the first document mentioning the use of masks.
During the period of Carnival it seems that every excess was permitted and the fact that everyone wore masks seemed to abolish all social division. Masks have always been a central feature of the Venetian carnival. Venetian masks have a long history of protecting their wearer's identity during promiscuous or decadent activities. Made for centuries in Venice, these distinctive masks were formed from papier-mache and wildly decorated with fur, gems, fabric, or ribbons.
The most typical mask was the Bauta, a white half mask worn with a black cloak and a black hat with three tips (tricorno). This mask was very popular in Venice and was worn both by women and men because it conferred complete anonymity and allowed the wearer to eat and drink without having to remove the mask.
By the mid 17th Century the Venice Carnival had become the most famous festivity throughout Europe. People come to attend private and public masked balls and masked revelers of all ages invade the campi where music and dancing continues nearly day and night.
Carnival virtually disappeared when Napoleon's troops brought an end to the Venetian Republic in 1797. The parties lapsed for almost two centuries before being revived in the 1970s, when residents took to the streets and piazzas for impromptu celebrations.
Today's Carnival is limited to the ten days preceding Lent which begins on Ash Wednesday. The event contains concerts, theater, circus, ballet, masquerade balls, historical processions, and fashion shows. The spirit of Carnival is everywhere and ever-present during this period. From early morning to late evening there are groups of elaborately costumed characters that slowly walk and pose for photographers.
The Carnival in Venice takes place each year in February. In 2007 Venice Carnival will begin on 9th February and end on 20th. It will be dedicated to the Venetian playwriter Carlo Goldoni, born 300 years ago, whose comedies and dramas are the best expression of the venetian folclore.
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