Carnival in Italy is just around the corner! Check out this article to learn more about its history and the best destinations!
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History of Carnival in Italy
Today, the Italian carnival (Carnevale) is a fancy and grand festivity that brings together Italians and tourists from abroad.
But did you know that its origins are actually rooted in ancient times?
During the Roman Empire, there was one particular day when enslaved people and masters were allowed to play, dance, and eat together. It happened during the Saturnalia, a pagan festival dedicated to the God Saturn.
Many years later, the Catholic Church took inspiration from this pagan tradition and created its festivity – Carnival. Its goal was to cheer people up before Lent, 40 days of fasting.
Putignano Carnival was the first carnival in Italy. It dates back to the 13th century, and you may not believe me, but it is preserved until today!
How Is Carnival Celebrated in Italy?
Carnival season in Italy is exceptional because every region celebrates it differently (I’ll talk about it in detail later).
But despite minor distinctions, you can expect people wearing costumes and masks, parades of spectacular allegorical floats, a lot of dancing and music, and markets full of delicious Italian food.
So, when you arrive at Carnival Italy, rejoice with others!
If you don’t fancy dressing up in a costume, it’s okay. You can always buy a mask to feel part of the celebration or participate even without it.
And as every city organizes the event on its own, don’t forget to check out the dates and program in advance!
When Does Carnival Start in Italy?
Just like Easter, Carnival is a moveable feast, and its dates differ depending on the year.
In 2023, Italy Carnival will officially start on February 5th and will end on February 21st, Shrove Tuesday.
However, some cities may start the celebration earlier or even postpone it to spring.
These are the main dates of the carnival season in Italy for 2023:
- Start of the Carnival: February 5th, Sunday
- Shrove Thursday: February 16th, Thursday
- Carnival Sunday: February 19th, Sunday
- Shrove Tuesday: February 21st, Tuesday
Best Places to Celebrate Italian Carnival
Carnival is a big deal in Italy, and every city puts a lot of effort into celebrating it to the fullest.
From a little town in Romagna to the famous Venice Carnival, you can find magnificent festivities all over Italy.
So, if one of your dreams is to attend the Italian Carnival and see its magic with your own eyes, here is where you can go.
Dates: February 4 – 21
I guess it’s not a surprise that Venice Carnival 2023 is the first one on this list.
One of the oldest and most glamorous events not only in Italy but also in the whole world, Venice Carnival will transport you to a fantastic world to celebrate art, music, and history.
In the first weeks of February, the whole city becomes an open-air theater, with the most remarkable performances taking place on Piazza San Marco and the Grand Canale.
This year, the goal of Venice Carnival 2023 is to demonstrate the total freedom of creative expression and encourage people to find their uniqueness.
And you’ll have plenty of opportunities to witness that or even to be part of it.
The Carnival Street Show, the Night Show, the 12 Marie, and Float Parades are only a few notable events that are planned for this year.
Those who want to add some mystery to the celebration can visit Venice Masquerade Ball.
I mean, when else will you have a chance to blend into a crowd wearing a moretta mask and dressed up in a fancy costume?
Dates: February 5 – 21
Carnival in Rome may be less famous than in Venice, but it is in no way inferior to the latter.
Stunning shows, colorful costumes, brilliant music, and dancing performances – you can expect all that if you visit the festivity.
The cornerstone of Carnival in Rome is a perfect combination of ancient traditions and modern technology.
You can witness it at the Parade of Allegorical Floats, which brings together thousands of people annually to marvel at the most inventive papier-mâché.
In simple words, the Carnival is a highly anticipated event of the year, and in February, Roman streets are filled with confetti and joy.
Dates: February 4 – 21
Putignano is an Apulian town where the Italian Carnival tradition was actually born, which makes it one of the most popular festivity destinations.
Something that started as locals’ sincere desire to cherish little moments and leave all the daily worries behind turned into a wonderful tradition that still exists and holds true.
The Putignano masquerade carnival is a fun celebration that includes concerts, art exhibitions, and, of course, a parade of giant papier-mâchés that are carefully created by local artisans.
This year seven of them will also compete for the title of the best float.
Besides admiring the beauty of floats and dancing, during the Carnival, you will have a chance to try local delicacies and participate in a mask-making workshop.
Dates: 19 – 28 May
If you want to visit Carnival in Italy but have other plans for February, don’t worry. You can also do it in May.
Every year Sicilian town of Sciacca organizes a colorful celebration bustling with masquerade carnival, dances, music, and typical food of the island (such as cannoli).
Some sources claim that Sciacca Carnival dates back to Roman times when people were celebrating Saturnalia.
Throughout the centuries, the festival has changed numerous times, but what remained untouched is the mask tradition.
No wonder why Peppe Napa mask is a symbol of the carnival that opens the festivity and even has its own anthem!
Dates: February 5 – 22
Another famous and truly unique destination to celebrate carnival in Italy is Ivrea, a town in Piedmont.
Every year the city holds a “Battle of the Oranges,” a tradition that is deeply rooted in medieval times when citizens were oppressed by the tyrannic government.
Something that was born as a sign of liberation today is a commemoration of the past and just a fun activity. The battle lasts for three days and is the biggest food fight in Italy.
Accompanied by music, participants are divided into nine teams. On command, they start throwing oranges at each other, recreating a medieval clash between the Ivreans and the government.
The Carnival in Ivrea also offers its visitors music concerts, food stalls, and a parade of allegorical floats.
So, if you want to take a glimpse into the history and experience everything the Italian carnival has to offer, you know where to go.
Dates: February 4 – 21
The Carnival of Fano is one of the most anticipated festivities in the Marche region.
In February, Fano is all about confetti, sweets, allegorical floats, endless concerts, and joy. No wonder why people from all over Italy and abroad are coming to see festivity with their own eyes.
Fano Carnival is known as the second oldest carnival in Italy, where many old traditions are still respected.
One of them is a symbol of the Fano Carnival, a historical mask called Pupo. Every year Pupo opens and leads the parade, but on Shrove Thursday, it’s sacrificed to fire.
Music Arabita is another essential part of Fano Carnival. It’s similar to jazz, and its fun vibe is a perfect accompaniment to the celebration.
Carnival Italy: FAQs
How Long Does the Carnival Last in Italy?
Typically, Carnival in Italy lasts for several weeks, from February 4 to February 21st.
However, the exact dates vary depending on the city. Some towns may celebrate the carnival earlier or even postpone it until spring.
What Is the Origin of Carnival in Italy?
Italy Carnival was born as a mix of pagan and Christian traditions.
Its origins date back to Roman times when people were celebrating Saturnalia. That was the day when enslaved people and masters could spend time together and even switch roles.
Many years later, the Catholic church came up with an idea to organize a festivity to cheer people up before Lent, which today is known as the Carnival. Allegedly, the church was inspired by Saturnalia.
What Is the Oldest Carnival in Italy?
The oldest carnival in Italy is Putignano Carnival. Its fascinating history has been lasting since the 13th century, and you can attend it even today!