Carnival comes from the Latin carnem levare which literally translates into taking away the meat. This is what the carnival was originally meant to be – a splendid pre-lent feast, a last night of indulgence before the period of penance begins. Today’s carnival is, however, a much grander event spanning several days and even weeks.
Almost every catholic European city holds an annual carnival in the months of February and March. Probably amongst the best known is the Viareggio Carnival held in Viareggio, a city in the Tuscan region of Italy. While the floats in the parades here are so beautiful that they can never be anything but extremely enjoyable, here a few little tips, this I hope, will increase your fun immensely.
1.Visit the Carnival Citadel
Don’t forget a trip to the Carnival Citadel before the parades begin. This massive structure situated in the northern part of Viareggio is where the imaginations of the best Papier Mâché artists take shape. There is also a museum along with a long passage called the ‘multimedia lane’ which illustrates the history and uniqueness of the Viareggio carnival and is a great orientation tour for all visitors to the carnival here. You can watch some of these craftsmen at work, putting the finishing touches on their creations, floats that they have been working on for a year, since the end of last year’s carnival.
2. Join the Carnival Week course
Another great idea is to join the Carnival Week course at the Giacomo Puccni Centre, an Italian Language School. Not only does it provide a comprehensive history of the carnival, it also teaches visitors the little bit of Italian needed to enhance this experience manifold. The biggest plus of this course is the chance to participate in one of the several floats at any of the carnival parades. Participation at different cultural events during the carnival weeks are also on offer.
3. Buy admission tickets
Though the numbered seats are more expensive than the general admission tickets they are definitely worth the extra price because they are much closer up. However, if you cannot get those tickets do not fret. With humongous floats, some as large as twenty meters high and fourteen meters wide, you are bound to catch a good glimpse of them even from a distance.
4. Float Building
The Float Builders belong, mainly, to two different schools of thought. The Romantics build floats that tell legendary stories. The illustrations are generally better known and overflowing with vivid color and beauty. Equally extravagant are the floats built by the Verists. These floats are rich in socio-political messages often conveyed with a tongue-in-cheek irony. Some research and knowledge of current and more famous political events would help understand these floats more.
Venice’s carnival is unique in being on land and water, but the waterfront parade held on Viareggio Avenue has no rival in the elaborateness and artistry of its floats.
Photo of the Carnival of Viareggio, Italy by cidibee