Of all the carnivals in Italy the one in Venice is the grandest and most well known. The Venice Carnival runs for the two weeks running up to Ash Wednesday, finishing on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. Although the general style of the masks and costumes remain the same, the Venice Carnival adopts a new theme each year.
The Carnival of Venice is said to have originated in 1162 after a victory for Venice (or 'Repubblica della Serenissima' as it was known then) in the war against Ulirico, Patriarch of Aquileia. To celebrate this victory large crowds gathered in St Marks Square to meet up with friends and celebrate. Pigs and a bull were killed prior to an evening of eating, drinking and dancing.
The wearing of the masks came later as the Carnival of Venice was a time when everyone could express themselves and celebrate. The masks hid the identity of the person which meant there could be no distinction between the different social classes.
The Venice Carnival is the highlight of the year for this beautiful city and thousands of tourists from all around the world flock to Venice to join in the revellery and soak up the party atmosphere. The streets, canals and piazzas are filled with noise and colour as acrobats, jugglers and street artists of all kinds weave their way between crowds of people in elaborate costumes.
At night masked balls and gala dinners take place in candle lit palaces with guests arriving by gondola along the Grand Canal.
More information of the annual dates, list of events and prices can be found, in English, on the Venice Carnival