Carnevale- Venice's Colourful Masked Festival

Carnevale of Venice

If you travel to Venice in February, the exciting ‘Carnevale’ celebration is not to be missed! Excerpts below taken straight from our Venice & Veneto colour guide.

15th February - 4th March 2014

Carnevale, literally ‘farewell to meat’, lasts for 10 days (it used to be two months!) and ends on Shrove Tuesday. This masked festival was first celebrated in Venice in the 11th century and was traditionally a hugely decadent and debauched affair. Napoleon put a dampener on things when he handed Venice over to the Austrians and Mussolini banned mask-wearing in the 1930s but, in 1979, Carnevale was revived and nowadays the whole city seems preoccupied with revelry.

There are events in nine campos across the city including numerous over-the-top sfilata delle mascheri (mask processions). Special sweet fritole are served in the patisserie and a party atmosphere pervades throughout. However, getting a ticket for one of the mascheranda (masked balls) can be difficult and expensive, and some preparation is required if you want to hire an elaborate costume. Do some research on the Carnevale website ( or to ensure you know what is happening and when. Events start on the first Friday of the carnival with the Festa delle Marie (an unpious celebration of the Virgin Mary) and the Gran Corteo Storico (Great Historic Parade). On the Sunday is the Volo dell’Angelo (Flight of the Angel), in which a woman dressed as an angel ‘flies’ from the Campanile to the balcony of the Palazzo Ducale.

Sights not to miss

While you are in Venice, here are a few more things not to miss!

Piazza San Marco
Napoleon called it the finest drawing room in Europe and Gentile Bellini’s painting Procession in Piazza San Marco, which hangs in the Accademia, shows just how little it has changed since the 15th century.

Crowning the piazza on its eastern side are the Basilica di San Marco and to the south, towards the quayside, the Palazzo Ducale but there are fine buildings all around its boundaries. Going round the piazza anti-clockwise from the basilica is the Torre dell’Orologio (known as the Moor’s clock tower), designed by Mauro Codussi and completed in 1499. Above the large clock face, the lion of St Mark is depicted against a night-time sky. Two Moors stand on top and ring the bell on the hour. Like the basilica, the clock tower shows Byzantine influence and boasts some rich mosaics.

The western side of the piazza was once the site of the Chiesa di San Geminiano. The church was demolished in 1810 and a grand palace, the Ala Napoleonica, was built in its place (c1814) using Vincenzo Scamozzi’s designs for the Procuratie Nuove. This now houses the Museo Civico Correr.

The tallest building on the piazza and one of the most distinctive landmarks on the Venetian skyline is the Campanile. Known as il paron di casa (head of the house), it was first built around AD 900 as a watchtower, then, after being struck by
lightning, was rebuilt as a bell tower, reaching its full height of 99 m. 

Santi Giovanni e Paolo
Venetians have a soft spot for ‘San Zanipolo’, as they call it. The campo outside is one of loveliest open spaces on the island and is always full of parents with their children running about. Dominican friars commissioned the Gothic building, which was begun in 1368 and consecrated in 1430. It has a brown-brick exterior with white tracery. Inside, the addition of three
chapels on the south wall gives the immense nave a slightly unbalanced feel. Twenty-five doges are buried in the church: the elaborate tombs include monuments to a number of the Mocenigo family, Lombardo’s tomb for Nicolò Marcello (c1474) and his monument to Andrea Vendramin (1478). (The latter was once adorned with saucy nudes but these were replaced with St Catherine and Mary Magdalene.)

The first chapel on the right holds the St Vincent Ferrer Polyptych (c1465) by Giovanni Bellini, which includes his painting of St Christopher. It is one of the few pictures of the Saint that doesn’t depict him as hairy-faced vagrant but, instead, as an idealistic young man and its raw physical realism is quite overwhelming. The remains of St Catherine’s foot are buried in the Cappella di San Domenico, which boasts Giovanni Battista Piazzetta’s only ceiling painting, the Glory of St Dominic (1727). 

As you walk across the bridge over rio Santa Caterina towards the Gesuiti, your heart will soar as you catch the first glimpse of its jaw-dropping edifice bathed in the light the expanse of the campo affords.

A latecomer, as far as Venetian churches go, Santa Maria Assunta (to give its official name) wasn’t built until 1714. The Republic’s power struggle with the Vatican meant that the Jesuits were very unpopular in the city and were even expelled for a good number of years. When they were finally given permission to build their own church, it was on the basis that it would be on the outer reaches of the city, as far away from the opportunity to court influence and cause trouble as possible.

The Baroque façade by Domenico Rossi has four columns on each side of a large bronze door. Angels adorn the columns, the roof and the tabernacles inside. The simple barrel-vaulted nave is festooned with trompe l’oeil paintings and carved green and white marble, which appears to be draped around the walls.

Note: Titian’s gruesome Martyrdom of St Lawrence, which shows the saint being roasted alive. It’s a night scene: you can see the light glistening on the sweaty bodies and almost feel the heat of the fire.

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