Among all annual events in Venice the Venice Carnival is the most famous one. Venetians descend on the pre-Lent feast of Carnevale. The festival traditionally marks the wild celebration preceding Lent, the period of penance and abstinence before Easter. Carne Vale - literally - 'farewell to meat', lasts a maximum of 10 days, culminating from the Friday to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Carnival officially starts 10 days before Shrove Tuesday (or Maundy Thursday), the dates vary depending on when Easter 'falls'.
Well before the festivities begin, traditional carnival products such as fritters and racine doughnuts appear in bakeries.
Every year, Carnival opens with a series of elegant balls and private parties not open to the public. However, the Doge's Ball is a fantastic exception. It is held in the Palazzo Pisani Moretta on the Grand Canal on the Saturday before Shrove Tuesday. Historical costumes are obligatory and easily rented, although they are a bit expensive! The Doge's Ball is expensive, in fact it costs € 500 per person, but it can be one of the most beautiful experiences ever.
Even if you don't want to attend the Doge's Ball, there is still plenty of joy and fun to be had in the streets. The musical and cultural events, many of which are free, cater for all tastes, nationalities, ages and budgets. The city's dozens of squares host everything from reggae to jazz to singer-songwriting. Special art exhibitions are staged in numerous museums and galleries.
Carnival is not for people who don`t like crowds. Crowds, in fact, are the heart and essence of Carnival. All life becomes a stage, and everyone is an actor in themselves. The Carnival relives the glory of the 1700s, when Venetian life was extravagant, which is why the disguises emphasise its historical and eccentric aspect.
You might see the Three Musketeers riding the vaporetto, or your waiter might be dressed as a nun. The places to be seen in costume are the cafés that line St Mark's Square. Don't expect to sit in view unless your costume is really flashy or extravagant.
The first Saturday sees a masked parade and party in St Mark's, the next day the highlight: the flight of the Columbine. The traditional Colombina flight takes place when an acrobat, dressed as Colombina (a figure from the Commedia dell'Arte), swoops down along a wire from the top of St Mark's Bell Tower to the square below. The acrobat dressed as Colombina will throw sweets to the spectators as she descends the wire, to the delight of the children. On Thursday there is a competition for the best costume and on Friday a masked ball in the Piazza. Saturday is celebrated with a parade of gondolas on the Grand Canal.
The celebrations continue until Shrove Thursday, when the bells of San Francesco della Vigna ring at midnight. But before the bells ring, the grand finale: clowns, acrobats and fireworks over the lagoon. This is a celebration that commemorates history, art, and theatre. Venice offers an unrivalled stage for such an event.