Monday, February 13th, 2012

I suppose Italophiles or at least the readers of my blog are familiar with Carnevale. If not, surely you know about Mardi Gras in New Orleans or Rio. Carnevale, wherever it is held, usually starts a few days before the start of  Lent and peaks on Fat Tuesday – the day before the start of Lent.  Carnevale is held all over Italy but usually brings to mind Venice. Another one less known here but quite spectacular is the one in Viareggio. Venice is especially famous for masks while Viareggio is famous for floats. And then there is Ivrea which is in a category all it’s own.

In Venice the masks are a long tradition. In fact they were used in the 18th century to anonymize citizens – indeed required at some decision making functions to act as a kind of secret ballot. The tradition of the mask makers there is quite old with a statue commemorating them dating from 1436. Should you go to Venice you will see some great examples and can bring one or more home. Many are quite expensive but there are some more modest ones that only cover the top half of the face that can be had for an affordable price. A mask of this sort is known as a bauta and has the obvious advantage that one can more readily talk, eat and drink – seems like a good thing at Carnevale.

The Viareggio tradition started in 1873 and has gotten quite extravagant as you can see from the photo. Note the enormous size of these things. It makes the Macy’s parade pale by comparison. The figures range from fantasy to entertainment figures to political caricatures. I’d love to see this in person one of these days. As if one really needs an excuse to visit Italy.


One of the more obscure and interesting celebrations is in Ivrea and is called the Battle of the Oranges where people on floats and opposing groups on foot throw, well, oranges at each other. Ah, those Italians. You can read more about it by clicking here for the whole story on Wikipedia. 


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