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Carnival in Venice: performance in the streets of the old city

Sunday, 21 December 2008

carnival in VeniceEvery year lots of tourists (by the most conservative estimate - about a million) come to Venice to take part in different carnival events. Except these people there are various sorts of mummers, merry-andrews, actors, swindlers or just event-lovers.

All of them come out into the narrow streets of Venice to take part in a very bright action - the world-famous Venice carnival.

History of this carnival dates back from the 11th century (the first mention of it is dated 1094) and is connected with the Roman Saturnalia - specific harvest festivals. And these Saturnalia are the source of the tradition to wear masks: during the carnival the slaves were permitted to sit at the table with their masters, but to be sure that class prejudice doesn't spoil the fun, everybody hid their faces behind the masks. In some time the production of masks turned into a separate revenue item of the Venetian craftsmen. And even now it is a bad taste to come from Venice and not to bring a beautifully colored carnival mask.

In Middle Ages people wearing such masks did a lot of brave and scary things. If it's a carnival - the person wearing a mask can do anything he likes. Nothing seems too shameful, too brave, too daredevil or too immoral. Adultery is not what can be called unfaithfulness, theft is just a joke, nobody has to shed his blood to make the satisfaction for an offence, and even murder could be committed somewhere in the wet alleyway of Venice. Some time passed, and people started wearing masks on common days as well. Poisoners, lovers, murderers, pirates, criminals, adventurers, outlaws, convicts - intentions of all these people have not always been good. This made the church forbid wearing masks if there is no carnival. And in 1608 the Venice authorities issued a regulation, according to which the men, wearing masks in their everyday life, were subject to two years of jail and to a money forfeit, and women wearing masks were publicly swished at the square.

Just before the Renaissance the carnival started dictating fashionable tendencies: street dances were copying the ones at the balls; luxurious fancy-dresses, embroidered with gold and decorated with precious stones, gradually became the models, copied by seamstress enjoying popularity with the fashionists. Before the start of the industrial revolution the carnival has been the most important event in the life of the city. But gradually, day after day, new realities of life, necessity to earn money by way of hard work, factories, plants, wars drove the carnival out and the irrepressible fun of the these days was almost completely forgotten.

But every cloud has a silver lining. Due to the industrial growth and development of technologies, Venice lagged behind the progress which was darting forward. And then Venice people decided to get back to the origins to be sure that the city doesn't decline any more. This is the way the Venice carnival became a real business.

In the Middle Ages the carnival lasted for a month, and in modern Italy it lasts for two weeks at the end of January.

The carnival begins with the oldest Venetian festival - Festa delle Marie, which is devoted to the rescue of the Venetian girls, kidnapped by pirates from Istria. Performance «Comedy dell'arte» is held on St. Marcus Square, and after that tons of confetti fall down on the heads of spectators. Each carnival is devoted to some specific subject (for example, this year's subject was Sensation: 6 sensi x 6 sestieri). And then the pageant begins.

Concerts are held at the city squares, fireworks are organized, theatrical performances (devoted to the subject of the carnival) are staged, and closed-door fancy-dress balls take place at the long-standing palaces. If you want to be one of the participants, you either have to have a special invitation (if you belong to a small group of the chosen ones) or you have to buy tickets in advance. The average price of a ball, that lasts for the whole night, is about 300-800 euro (don't forget that the beverages, costumes and other sorts of amusement are to be paid separately).

Citizens and visitors of the city come into the streets wearing the costumes of the world-famous characters of the Italian comedy - Harlequin, Pierrot and Pantaloon; and Columbine becomes the emblem of this festival. The visitor of the carnival is obliged to wear a mask and a fancy-dress. This fancy-dress can be ordered with a designer (it will cost you 5000 euro or more); otherwise you can buy it (for 500 euro or more) or rent it (for 300 euro or more). The most popular Venetian fancy-dress is a bautta (a white satin mask), a sweeping black cloak and a black triangular hat.

Natalia Rudenko
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