Carnevale is one of Italy’s biggest winter festival, celebrated in every town from the end of January. All over Italy you can found masquerade balls, costume parties and parades along the streets and in the squares. Masks, sweets and having fun are the most important things during Carnival: it’s a chance to be happy and cheerful, to dress up in costumes, even if you are not a child anymore!
Carnival is celebrate in the weeks before Lent, and its last and main day is Martedì Grasso (Mardi Gras – Fat Tuesday), the day before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras, along with the Thursday before, called Giovedí Grasso (Fat Thursday), are the main days for celebrations.
Because the date of Easter changes every year, so does the period of Carnival, even though Italians begin to celebrate from the end of January.
If you are in Italy during Carnival time, wherever you are, you can grab a mask and enjoy the fun!
1 – Gondolas and Masks during the “Carnevale di Venezia”
The most famous Italian Carnival is the Venetian one. During all the Carnival period the city is filled with people wearing elaborate and typical costumes and masks, and with food stalls. Highlights events are gondolas and boats parades along the Grand Canal, masks parades in Saint Mark’s Square, and the big fireworks show on the last day of Carnival.
2 – See the allegorical floats of Viareggio
Viareggio attracts every year more than one million spectators, gathering to attend the great Parades of giant allegorical papier-maché floats. Every year, every group of artists build up a new giant float, inspired by the events happened during the year, and take part at the competition for the best float. The philosophy of recovery and recycling through an only manual technique are the basis of the event. Furthermore, there are night parties, fireworks, masked balls, theatrical performances, culinary events and sport events.
Here you can find the program of the Carnival of Viareggio
3 – Enjoy the Battle of Oranges in Ivrea
The Carnival of Ivrea is the oldest historic Carnival in Italy. Best known for the spectacular Battle of the Oranges, the Carnival of Ivrea culminates in a historical parade. The Battle of the Oranges a representation of the town’s rebellion against the tyrant. It is fought for three days, from Sunday to Shrove Tuesday. It is played between nine teams on foot, who represent the people who revolted, and the “Aranceri” (orange-throwers) on horsedrawn carriages, who play the role of the feudal armies.
You can find information about how to participate, and the rules to follow, in the official site of the Storico Carnevale di Ivrea.
4 – Take part in a Parade in Rome
Rome is the birthplace of Carnival celebrations, having its origins in the ancient Roman cult of Saturnalia, fertility rites to honor the god Saturn. You can still see the ruins of the Temple of Saturn at the Roman Forum, where they used to hold sacrifices.
During all Carnival time, Piazza del Popolo, Piazza di Spagna, Piazza Navona and Via del Corso are turned into a hive of activity, hosting open-air theatre, equestrian art performances, games and parties. The big Carnival Parade, in via Tiburtina, is the main part of Carnival celebrations, and will be formed by masked groups, floats, typical roman masks, costumed figurants, and historical groups. In the evening of the last day, Carnevale will end with a huge firework display in Piazza del Popolo.
5 – Taste the typical sweets!
A big part of Carnival in Italy are the fried sweets! You can find them in all the bakeries by late January. The most popular are “Castagnole” and “Frappe”. Castagnole are fried balls of dough about the size of a chestnut covered in sugar. Frappe (this is the most used name in Rome) are flat, crisp ribbons of sweet pasta fried and covered with sugar, honey or chocolate. These fritters are familiar all over Italy, where they assume many different names, including Cenci (rags) or Donzelli (young ladies) in Tuscany, Crostoli (crusts) in Veneto, Lattughe (lettuce) in Romagna, Nastri delle Suore (ribbons of the nuns) in Emilia, Bugie (lies) in Piemonte, and Chiacchiere (babbles) or Meraviglie (beauties) in Sardinia.