If I were to say (or write) the word Carnevale everyone would think about Venice, right? But as we all know, Italy can always surprise you. And here I am, the Italian Carnival lover ready to unveil you the 5 alternative Carnival Festivals of the Bel Paese! My personal selection of must-go-Carnival-festivals includes Verona, Viareggio, Putignano, Ivrea and Mamoiada. You read right, I didn’t include Venice! I love it (of course) but it’s one of the most famous and you already know everything about it, don’t you?
In Italy we just love Carnevale. When you are young it is one of those festivities you can’t wait to come – usually your grandma would tailor a costume for you and you would wear it at school and during your city’s festivals (…and, well, if you were like me you would wear it even when Carnival was over!). At school your teachers would want you to learn Carnival traditional poems and songs by heart, and during the art class you would draw and decorate the traditional masks of Arlecchino, Pulcinella and Colombina. Even if Carnival is more enjoyable when you are a child, being older won’t stop an Italian from dressing up and have fun during the countless festivals we have for Carnevale.
In my opinion this festivity, like no other, highlights many beautiful memories and old traditions bounded by the Italian history and values. And Carnival indeed can show you how diverse and multifaceted Italy can be from region to region.
So with out further ado, from north to south here is a selection of the 5 most peculiar Carnival Festivals you can find in Italy.
1. Verona and the Bacanàl del Gnoco
Verona, the enchanted city of Romeo and Juliet, is located in northeast Italy in the Veneto region. Verona’s Carnival is celebrated on the last Friday before Lent and it claims to be one of the oldest in Italy. This year, in fact, Verona will celebrate the 484th Bacanàl del Gnoco. In 1531 Verona’s population was suffering from hunger as a consequence of food shortage caused by the rising of grain prices. The conditions were dramatic especially in St. Zeno area, one of the more populated and poor of that time. In the attempt to solve the situation, the nobleman Tommaso Da Vico donated a large amount flour to make gnocchi for the people who couldn’t afford to eat. Since then Da Vico mandated to donate gnocchi and wine every year, on the last Friday of Carnival. These days the city of Verona celebrates the Venerdi’ gnocolar’ (Gnocchi Friday) recalling the tradition of this dish with parades and celebrations. The parade is led by the typical mask of the Papa’ de’ gnocco (Gnocchi Dad), the symbol of the generous noble who fed the population during the famine.
I personally lived in Verona during my studies and I can tell you how heart-felt is this celebration: everyone prepares homemade gnocchi with tomato sauce on that day!
2. Ivrea: the Carnival of the oranges
The Piedmontese Carnival was established in 1808 and is without doubt one of the most particular festivals in the world. Carnevale d’Ivrea is also called the Carnival of the oranges because it recalls the Battle of the Oranges, in memory of a local insurrection of 1194 against Barbarossa, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederik of Swabia. The civil war was started by Violetta la Mugnaia (the miller) and ended with the destruction of a castle, a symbol of the imperial power.
This specific Battle involves orange throwers on foot (representing the population) defending the piazzas from the cars of the Napoleonic troops. The smell of oranges floods the city center during this festival, and tourists are encouraged to participate to the battle and take part in this unique show.
3. Viareggio, its Masks and Floats
Tuscany, one of the most beloved Italian regions, is the stage of the renowned Carnevale di Viageggio. Unlike the other Carnival festivals I mentioned before, this is all about masks and floats representing caricatures of famous people made with papier-mache.
The first parade was organized in 1873 by rich bourgeois to protest, in an ironic way, the high taxes they had to pay. Nowadays the parade keeps its satiric flavor and is seen as an artistic way to show the people’s discontent. The daytime celebrations are followed by parties called “colored, all-night dances” (veglioni colorati).
This is a perfect event for mingling with everyday Italians!
4. The ancestral Mamoiada Carnival
And now we move to the stunning island of Sardinia to learn a bit more about a very particular Carnival festival. Mamoiada is a town of 2,592 inhabitants in the province of Nuoro (central-eastern Sardinia).
The Carnevale mamoiadino has mysterious origins and it is one of the oldest Sardinian traditions. The typical masks of this Carnival festival are Mamuthones and Issohadores. Mamuthones are represented by clumsy black masks with dark fur coats and cowbells on the backs of those dressed as them. On the other hand, Issohadores have a white mask, a red dress and escort Mamuthones while catching and tying up young women with ropes as a good omen for health and fertility. These masks make their first appearance the 17th of January with the celebrations for St. Anthony’s feast day, performing traditional dances around bonfires.
5. Putignano: The Oldest Carnival
Putignano is a province of Bari, in the region of Apulia. The Carnevale di Putignano is without doubt one on the oldest of Europe, having celebrated its 620th edition in 2014. It is also one of the longest (believe it or not, but it starts the 26th of December!). The opening ceremony is called lo scambio del cero (the trade of the candle) where people donate candles to the church in order to ask for absolution for their sins that will be committed during Carnival. Smart, right?
The real Carnival celebrations usually starts three Sundays before Ash Wednesday and, similar to the Viareggio Carnival, the parades are filled with papier-mache floats representing caricatures of popular people. The Carnival ends on Mardi Gras with an afternoon parade and the celebration of the Carnival’s funeral.
Now you tell us, which one of this Festivals officially entered in your bucket-list?