It’s not easy to choose the top 5 carnivals in Italy that you need to visit because there are so many unique & different festivals throughout the year. Italians celebrate Carnival according to the different traditions of the cities making each celebration different. Travelers, Italy lovers and Italians too, should plan a visit to at least one of these places and enjoy Italy at one of its most animated times of the year – February when the atmosphere becomes more lively and people are charging to celebrate the long-awaited carnival and dress up with many different costumes.There are five Italian cities famous for their Carnival and for the incredible feast they organize every year.
Viareggio | Political Floats Carnival
The Viareggio Carnival is one of the most famous in Italy and it hosts numerous visitors every year. It originated in 1873 as a masquerade event for the upper classes. The celebration counts with huge animated parade floats, with caricatures of politicians and celebrities, masked dances and concerts for almost one month. Viareggio’s carnival has different themes every year, such as economic crisis, people’s fears, Internet etc.
A tip from an Italian? if you can, head to Viareggio a few days before the start of the carnival, is a really pretty town with a great seaside promenade and furthermore you can find a craftsman working on his masterpiece (all year long!) in anticipation of the event. This has become so important that they built hangars where the floats are created and a papier-mâché school. The decorations made the frame of this huge event, where also local bars and restaurants participate to create the festive atmosphere.
Ivrea | Orange Throwing Carnival
Ivrea is a Piedmont’s town in the province of Turin, mostly known for its world-famous and crazy Carnival, established in 1808, which consists in an epic Battle of Oranges. Yes, they literally spend a whole day throwing oranges to each other, something pretty dangerous! If you want to avoid (or at least try) not to get an orange in your head, you have to wear something red, like a scarf or a shirt. The Battle is an allegory of the struggle for freedom, referred to the civil war between the people of Ivrea and the royal Napoleonic troops, and the meaning of the celebration supports the ideals of freedom. The Battle involves squads of “aranceri” on foot, representing the people, and squads of “aranceri” on carts, representing the Napoleonic troops, throwing oranges (symbolizing arrows) at each other. Nowadays is a competition between the different districts of Ivrea, which take it very seriously. The celebration hosts folkloristic groups and music performers from all of Italy and Europe. At the end of the day Ivrea is completely submerged by pounds of oranges’ mash. If you don’t like oranges, please don’t go.
Putignano | A Very Ancient Carnival
Putignano is a town in the province of Bari, located in the region of Apulia, the heel of Italia. The Carnival of Putignano is the longest in Italy: it begins on December 26 and ends on Mardi Gras with a parade and the so called “funeral” of the Carnival. It is one of the most ancient carnivals in Europe: its origins go as far back as 1394. That year, the Knights of Malta and the governors of the area, moved the relics of St. Stephen from St. Stephen’s Abbey in Monopoli to Putignano, to protect them from the Saracens. As soon as the remains of the saint arrived in Putignano, farmers followed the religious procession, and when it was over, they celebrated with songs, dances, jokes and parody acts.
During the Carnival you can see many poets on the squares reciting satirical rhymes to entertain the people. As in all Carnival celebrations, masks and papier-maché floats take over the town in colorful masquerade parades.
A good reason to go to Putignano Carnival? It’s in Apulia, which means the most amazing food in Italy!
Cento | Rio Carnival of Italy
The Carnival of Cento, a town near Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna region, has ancient origins as testified by a fresco painted in the 17th century by a Cento native artist, Gian Francesco Barbieri, known as Guercino. The painting shows a local mask during a party organized for the citizens on Shrove Tuesday by the town’s Magistrate. Nowadays the Carnival of Cento is an important folkloristic event for the city because it was twinned with the Carnival of Rio de Janeiro in 1993, which gave to the Cento Carnival a significant international fame. You can admire incredible float parades in the historic center, and fell the spirit of Carnival among music, masked dancing figures and the famous launch of inflatable from the floats to spectators. The Carnival runs for the five Sundays prior to Lent. On the last Sunday a ceremony is held for the best costumes.
Cento has a strategic location, between Florence and Venice, so my suggestion is to plan a trip to the Central-North Italy and spend one day to celebrate the Italian Carnival in this little town like a local.
Venice | The Most Famous Carnival of Italy
Last but not least…the star of Italian Carnivals! The first official recorded Carnival celebration in Venice dates to 1296, when the Senate of La Serenissima made the day before Lent a holiday of fun and entertainments. Masks are the central component of the Venetian Carnival, used in the past to temporarily erase any distinction of social class, gender or religion.
In the 1797 Venice fell under the Austrians so Carnival Celebrations were suspended due to their subversive nature.
The old traditions resumed in the 1970 with the opening of a modern mask shop. Since that moment events, parades and a special festive atmosphere dominate Venice in the weeks of Carnival celebrations, while masquerade balls take place in the elegant buildings of the city, recreating the atmospheres of times gone by. Millions of visitors from Italy and abroad go to Venice to attend this extraordinary event known all over the world.
One of the most spectacular events of the Venice Carnival is the “Flight of the Angel”, where a person suspended in the air, tied to a metal cable, descends from the top of St. Mark’s tower to the Doge’s Palace.
Events such as masked balls must be booked in advance.
If you want to celebrate a famous and memorable Carnival, head for Venice. I have to confess that I’ve never been to the Carnival of Venice. This is the typical epic event of your country that local people avoid because they say “I have time..”. But I’ve never gone there because this huge event can be intensely crowded and hotels and restaurants use to be very expensive, more than the normal high prices of Venice. However, it is a unique experience you will not stop talking about.