In New Orleans, they call it Mardi Gras, but for most of the rest of the world it’s called Carnival. In Venice, Italy, Carnevale, like Mardi Gras, is the high point in their social calendar. In Venice, Carnevale is a masked extravaganza, and your chance to spend 12 days looking like the Phantom of the Opera and have your fun incognito. It’s pretty much the world’s best-known baroque fancy-dress party, it’s as extravagant as Rio’s Carnaval is riotous, celebrating the approach of spring with refined gusto.
Venetians have been celebrating Carnevale since at least the 15th century. In those days private clubs organised masked balls, and popular entertainment included such gentle fun as bull-baiting and firing live dogs from cannons. By the 18th century Venice was in the grip of hedonism, and the licentious goings-on of Carnevale lasted two months. It was so crazy, they banned it for many years, and only revived the tradition in 1979.
The festivities s with La Festa delle Marie, a procession through the city. This is a precursor to the official opening the day after, when a masked procession leaves Piazza San Marco in the evening and circulates through the streets. The next day there are jousts and other mock-military tournaments. The following Friday evening sees the festival’s high point, the Gran Ballo delle Maschere (Grand Masked Ball), or Doge’s Ball, which takes place in different locations each year – usually a suitably grand palace is chosen for the event. Anyone with proper costume and mask who is able to dance the quadrilles and other steps of a few centuries ago may join in.