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Camelias and Carnival: Our guide to Carnival in Venice

In Venice, spring begins when the yellow-flowering calycanthus give way to the first white-pinkish almond blossoms, light purple crocuses, and .. mimosa smelling of vanilla and lemon! Usually; this happens in early February when all of a sudden, we can detect the first blossoms on the mimosa trees in Venice, appearing over night. Such as the blossoms on the mimosa trees in a private garden, overlooking Rio di San Vio (Dorsoduro).

2022 is another year when Carnival in Venice cannot “take place as usual”. It was called off early in 2020 when the first Covid-19 cases were detected. It took place online in 2021. And now in 2022, big events like Volo dell’Angelo in the Piazza cannot take place either. Yet, there’s a little stage in Piazza San Marco, and small events taking place in the afternoon.

The 2022 edition of Carnival focuses on symbols and colors, counting on residents to participate: Spontaneous events take place on the little squares in town, semi-private feasts so to say. It may happen that on any Monday afternoon, le maschere (masks) meet quietly on Campo San Zaccaria, which gets really sunny just an hour before sunset.

It’s a quiet Carnival when you pass through the streets (calli) and squares (campi) in Venice. Le maschere son mute – masks don’t speak because in the past, they were held close to the face by means of a button stuck in the mouth, so talking to others wasn’t possible.

Foodwise, Carnival is just fantastic, every year, a new seasonal specialty comes up: For the past three years or so, mammalucchi have become favorites: Made from a similar dough as the frittelles, mammalucchi are baked in olio di semi without adding baking power, so they look flatter, flavored with a spice mix which is the secret of two Venetian bakeries offering these treats: Pasticceria Bonifacio in Calle degli Albanesi (Castello), and Pasticceria Bar Targa near Campo San Polo.

In 2015, as a contrast to the large Carnival events drawing tourists, the pastry stores in Venice started a concorso della fritola competition, offering not just classic frittelles but treats filled with flavored cream and essences. And then, on the last day of Carnivale, Venetians voted for the best fritola.

There’s no such competition right now in Venice, but the variety of frittelles has been growing since then: In 2022, fritole filled with pistachio cream have become new favorites, offered by Pasticceria Rosa Salva and Cioccolateria Vizio Virtù.

Did you know that celebrating Carnival in Venice goes back to the year 1094, when the feast began on 25 October? Thus, Carnival here in the Lagoon is not connected to the usual Latin interpretation of carnem levare, which only applies to the Martedì grasso. 

Did you know that fritole (frittelles) were the Venetian National Dish, eaten mostly in winter (it’s a heavy pastry for cold weather).

What we know as “Carnival in Venice” today is so different from what the feast was like until 1797, as long as the Serenissima Republic existed.

Today, the purpose of Carnival is to organize a feast promoting Venetian shops, artists and artisans (each year, there’s a motto like Don’t forget about the future in 2022). During the times of the Republic of Venice, the purpose of organizing Carnival was to avoid public unrest in the city of Venice: It did work – there was no such thing as civil unrest with one exception in 1310 (Bajamonte Tiepolo uprise).  In the 11th century, it became a custom that people wearing masks were considered “equal” amongst each other: No class differences were made between nobles and common citizens as long as everyone was behaving well.

By the 18th century, for about nine months of the year, masks and feasts became a daily sight, the Venetian lifestyle so to say: From October until mid-June, with brief interruptions for religious festivities, people were allowed to wear masks.

NEW e-guide: Camelias and Carnevale

Carnival is a unique opportunity to witness the forgotten culture of La Serenissima. Here’s our e-guide for you to take to Venice on your mobile phone, or download and prepare your visit: 5 itineraries amongst historical dishes, delicious pastries (not just frittelles), DIY historical recipes, and the authentic fashion style of La Serenissima.

Download the e-guide here

3 responses to “Camelias and Carnival: Our guide to Carnival in Venice”

  1. ChgoJohn Avatar

    Thank you for the history lesson. I’d no idea that Carnival’s roots went back so far, although I did know about fritole. That says more about me than anything else. :)

    1. furbiziahs Avatar

      You are very welcome – Carnival goes back to the day of “il ritrovamento” when the Venetians found the body of St Mark (they had lost him when the Basilica was re-built in 1065). Venetians celebrated, and to remember this day, festivities started every year in October, were interrupted by Christmas and then continued. It’s an interesting piece of history distinguishing Carnival in Venice. Le fritole were the national dish of the Republic of Venice.

      1. ChgoJohn Avatar

        Truly fascinating. Grazie.

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