The carnival in Venice is an annual event that lasts for about 18 days. The beginning and the end of the carnival are strictly correlated to the religious calendar which means it is not organized every year on the same date and that for most people these dates stay a mystery. If you want the answer to when exactly the carnival in Venice starts and how long it will last, the best place to check is the official website of the Venetian Carnival, which publishes the dates and the program of the event when it is finalized.
One thing is sure, the Carnival in Venice will end each year on the day of Martedi Grasso (Fat Tuesday) or Shrove Tuesday, one day before Ash Wednesday and 47 days before Easter. The end day of the carnival, can fall as early as February 3rd and as late as March 9th.
According to tradition, the origins of the carnival date back to the 12th century and the victory of the Venetian Republic over Patriarch of Aquileia. When the news reached the city, people started gathering on the San Mark Square to dance and celebrate. This event later became an annual tradition that continued throughout centuries. It is interesting that in 1797, under the rule of the King of Austria, the carnival was forbidden together with the tradition of wearing masks of any kind. The Carnival in Venice only returned in 1979 with an initiative of Italian government wanting to bring back the history and culture of Venice.
General program of the Carnival in Venice
Each year, the Carnival in Venice is organized under the patronage of the art director of the event. The theme of the Carnival can vary each year, which realistically means that only slight additions to the whole program may be added (for example a few stands that show workers building gondolas, sowing costumes or making stone decorations).
The carnival starts with an opening ceremony that lasts for around 2 hours. The location of this opening ceremony is Cannaregio Canal, where the theme of the carnival is transported on different boats or rafts.
The day after, a repeating opening ceremony takes place, organized on the same canal that starts around 11 and again lasts for a few hours. This time, visitors may be able to enjoy a boat parade of different local rowing boat clubs dressed in different costumes.
Nothing is organized for the next 6 days.
On the 8th day of the carnival, a procession of the Marias is organized. The procession of 12 young Venetian maidens called Maries starts from San Piero di Castello and ends on the San Mark Square. On this occasion, young Maries are presented to the crowed on the square.
The next day (9th day) two events take place: waiting for the angel of the carnival and the flight of the angel. During the waiting period on the San Mark Square different groups in masks will exhibit themselves. Finally, the angel will descend from the Tower of the Basilica of San Marko. Even though the steel cables are used for this performance, keep in mind that the Tower of the basilica is very high. According to the tradition, Maria that won the previous year contest takes the place of the angel and with great courage flies over the crowed on the San Mark Square.
For the next six days the contest for the best mask is organized on the San Mark Square. Here visitors of the city can compete for the best costume together with the locals on the stage built for this purpose. If you decide to participate remember it is free of charge you just need to fill in the form on the official website.
On the 16th day of the carnival three events take place: waiting for the eagle flight, the eagle flight and the flight of a donkey. During the period of waiting for the angel on Piazza San Marko several groups will perform with the aim to revive the spirit of the glorious days of the carnival from the 18th and 19th century. The Eagle will descend from the Tower of the Basilica San Marko to the stage on the square beneath. The role of the eagle is performed by a special guest the identity of whose is revealed only a few hours before the event. On the other hand, the flight of the donkey is an event that is organized on the mainland of Venice (Mestre). On the same day, the two best masks are to be announced on the San Mark Square: the best costume of the carnival and the best costume according to the theme of the carnival.
On the 17th day, gathered crowed waits for 12 Maries of the Carnival to appear on the stage in the San Mark Square. On the same day also a noncompetitive parade of best masks is organized.
On the last day (the 18th day) of the carnival the closing ceremony takes place. On the San Mark Square the maiden that won the contest is coroneted, while the end of the carnival is marked by spreading a huge flag with the Venetian Lion that flies from the far end of the square towards the Tower of the Basilica San Marko.
During the whole period of the carnival you will enjoy many beautiful costumes of people that are trying to win the prize for the best mask, those that just wanted to have fun, as well as tourists that improvised their costumes from what they had available.
Even though the carnival in Venice is a great experience, keep in mind that hotel rates tend to even triple and restaurants also tend to increase their already high prices during this event. Therefore, if you really want to visit the Carnival and you are traveling on a tight budget, look for hotels in Mestre or even further away and obviously organize your visit to the city so that you can have a lunch or a dinner in Mestre where prices are much more reasonable.