Carnival is a celebration of life, and many cities all over the world organize elaborate parades and balls. It all started in Venice in the 12th century.
Carnivals everywhere end 40 days before Easter, on Shrove Tuesday(Mardi gars).
The Carnival of Venice started in 1162 to honour the triumph of Serenissima Repubblica over the bishop of Aquileia. In those days, bishops were powerful rulers of the mostly religious populations, and Italy, as we now know it, did not exist.
There were many city-republics like Venice that were predominantly engaged with Eastern Mediterranean and Far Eastern countries in spice trade. This made Venice very rich, and enabled rulers to maintain large armed forces as well as merchant marines.
The Carnival Of Venice is famed for its elaborate masks that allow all citizens to participate, regardless of their status in life. Today, the rich organize balls, and control attendance with fees; this was not the case originally.
In the 17th century, the carnival was used to bolster the image of Venice, but 100 years later it became a debauchery, and a licence of unabashed pleasure. Towards the end of the century (1797), the Austrian King, who at the time was the “republic”, outlawed it. Celebrations went “underground” and took place in private villas that dot the canals of the city. This deep-tooted tradition reappeared in the 19th century in homes of ordinary people.
The Italian government decided in 1979 to officially recognize the importance and tradition by publicly celebrating Carnival in Venice. It features parades, parties, private balls, and charity events, attracting three million visitors to the 70,000-population city in need of revitalization to maintain its fragile infrastructure.
Every participant in a parade or event wears mask. There are three different styles – leather, porcelain, and glass. The creator determines design and theme of each category. Masks allow anonymity, and all individuals, regardless of income and social status can and do participate.
Carnival customs are imaginative, flashy and elaborate, but also express appreciation and celebration of life. The music is always lively. Alcohol flows freely and take a lot of “licences” that are otherwise unthinkable or imaginable.
The carnivals of Venice, Mardi Gras in new Orleans, Rio de Janeiro, Koln, Munich, and Trinidad and Tobago are world famous, that attract millions of visitors and generate welcome funds for cities organizing these events.
There are many other carnivals such as those in Sao Paolo, Basel, Paris but they attract only local crowds and lack international fame.