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Masked Balls in Venice


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 performances.

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).

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