From February 17 to 28, Venice transforms
into a city-wide, 10-day celebration: processions, music, performances,
bull fights, cart racing, and the famous traditional masked balls.
Both the carnival and the mask wearing have been
entrenched in Venice culture since the 13th century. Celebrated
before Lent, it was seen as a final embrace of all indulgences before
entering a period of fasting and austerity. The anonymity provided
by the masks freed participants to join the revelry without embarrassment.
It also signaled a temporary release from social restrictions or
barriers. Rich or poor, married or single, it didn’t matter
— for the days of the carnival, you drop your identity and
its corresponding obligations, and follow your impulses without
fear of consequences. You even let go of your name: all revelers
are called Sior Maschera (Signor Mask).
Today, masked balls are either private affairs
or open events organised by local carnival companies. Most are held
on the last Saturday of the carnival. There is one official Ball
organised by the city, but this (as well as the other major balls)
sell out very quickly and requires early reservation. Ticket prices
range from £285 to £320, which includes banquets and
Any masked ball requires, of course, a mask, as well as the traditional
bauto (hood and cape), tabarro (cloak) and tricorn
hat (you’ll find them everywhere during the carnival season).
You don’t necessarily have to dress up, but it does help get
you into the spirit of things. You can get high-quality masks and
costumes at Canovaccio (Calle delle Bande 5369), Lucerna (Cortevenera
6290), and Mondonovo (Rio Terra Canal, Dorsoduro 3063).