Italy: The Carnival of Venice

Map of Italy

Map of Country

Figure 1: Map of Italy



The Carnival of Venice, a popular celebration in Italy, has many aspects to it.  The Carnival is a religious celebration taking place right before Lent.  The idea of communitas, or social equality, is strongly expressed.  This is also a time for people to transform themselves using masks and costumes.  Many enjoy being someone else for a short period of time.  In a sense, it is a way for people to escape the reality of their everyday lives.  Carnival also helps the economy of Venice prosper.  The Carnival of Venice will most likely be celebrated for many years to come.


Additional Image 1   Additional Image 2

Figure 2:  This picture shows a Carnival tradition.  A man acting as an angel "flies", throwing balloons and confetti to the people on the streets. Figure 3:  Dinner and dance in costumes is also a popular tradition.


The Carnival of Venice is an extravagant, annual celebration that draws many tourists.  The Carnival celebrates years of history, and is thought to have started as early as 1162 A.D., in order to celebrate the victory of the State of Venice in a war, for ten days. The streets are filled with costume, street actors, and over 500,000 people.  This celebration is the most popular Carnival in Italy.  The Carnival has social structure; however, it also stresses communitas.  Not only does the Carnival help the economy prosper, it incorporates religion and gender roles.


Context of Italy

Italy is a peninsula surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea located in Southern Europe.  The two major islands in Italy are Sicily and Sardinia.  Italy’s population is approximately 57,500,000 (  Rome is the capital, and Roman Catholic is the major religion.  Italy generally has a temperate climate with warm summers and cool winters.  The winters are milder in the southern part of the country (

Figure 1 displays a man, dressed as an angel, falling into a crowd of people.  He throws balloons and confetti into the crowd of thousands of people.  This is a popular tradition called the flight of the angel (  Figure 2 shows people dancing and celebrating.  Dancing and celebrating in elegant ballrooms is a major part of the Carnival.


Origins of The Carnival of Venice

The Carnival of Venice originated in the 18th century.  Carnival comes from the Latin word carne levarem, which means “farewell to the flesh” (Berg 44).  It has always been a tradition to wear masks and costume; therefore “farewell to the flesh” implies the idea of people covering their “true selves.”  Young noblemen of Venice originally dressed up in order to amuse other Venitians.  Parades and masquerades always accompany the Carnival.  In the past, everyone would call each other Sior Maschera, which means Sir Mask (Berg 48).



The Carnival of Venice is a festive celebration that celebrates the last day before the 40 day fast of Lent.  It is one of the most extravagant Carnivals in the world.  During Lent, the traditional belief is for Catholics to give up eating during daylight hours, and this celebration is looked at as one last celebration before Lent (Berg 51).  Many overindulge when eating, drinking, or dancing during this time.

One of the greatest aspects of the Carnival are the costumes.  For example, the most celebrated artifact is the Baute, or mask.  The masks worn are detailed and colorful.  Not only are masks a popular artifact during Carnival, but gondolas are also seen almost everywhere (Bofante-Warren 24).  These are boats that carry people down the many streams throughout the city of Venice.  Many times gondolas carry people to the lavish balls; however, many of these parties are by invitation only.



Figure 4:  Bautes, or masks, are an important artifact during Carnival. These allow people to disguise their identies and become someone else, which is a main theme of Carnival.




Prognosis for The Carnival of Venice

The Carnival of Venice is a celebration that will stay strong in the years to come.  Not only do people use this time to “transform” themselves, it also helps the economy and is a long lasting tradition.  Many have participated in cultural traditions and have adopted customs of Carnival (Gaudet 1998).  Tourists and residents of Venice enjoy this annual celebration, and the Carnival will be celebrated for a long time.



The Carnival of Venice is not only a celebration; there is much more to the festival.  The city of Venice is able to benefit from the profits of Carnival.  People can transform themselves and become someone else.  Many enjoy this celebration because it creates communitas.  The Carnival of Venice is a celebration enjoyed by many people.


Internet References Cited

  • Martin, Linda. 2004. Italy for Visitors.

    This website provided information about the country of Italy.  I was able to find information about the climate and history of the country.

  • 2001. Venice World International Media Services.

    This website provided information about the traditions and customs of Carnival.

  • 2004. Carnival of Venice.      

    This website provided many pictures of the Carnival.

  • 2004. Marymount International School Rome.

    This website provided a map of Italy.


Peer-Reviewed References Cited

  • Berg, Elizabeth
    1997 Festivals of the World.  Milwakee:  Gareth Stevens Publishing.
  • Bofante-Warren, Alexandra
    2000 Timeless Places: Venice.  New York:  Friedman/Fairfax Publishers.
  • Dorson, Richard
    1982 Material Components in Celebration. Celebration: Studies in Festivity and Ritual
              Victor Turner, ed, pp. 33-57. Smithsonian Institution Press: Washington.
  • Gaudet, Marcia
    1998 World Downside Up. Journal of American Folklore.
  • Grolier Educational
    1999 Fiesta: Italy.  Danbury: Sherman Turnpike.
  • Turner, Victor, and Edith Turner
    1982 Religious Celebrations. Studies in Festivity and Ritual.  Victor Turner, ed, pp.
              201-219.  Smithsonian Institution Press: Washington.


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