Carnival in Venice is spectacular. How to buy a real mask and information for your next visit.

Carnival in Venice was recently voted one of the world’s top five carnivals. It’s no wonder why when I see photos on social media!

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Venice is a magical city for anyone to visit but… it is particularly spectacular during Carnevale di Venezia! Every year the dates change. Carnival this year ran from January 27 through February 13th hence, the prompting of this post.

The History of the Spectacular Venice Carnival

The pageantry of the carnival is hard to ignore. However, when researching this post, I wondered how and why this event began. The Venice Carnival began in 1162 in celebration of the Venice Republic’s victory over its enemy, the Patriarch or Aquileia. The people of Venice gathered in Saint Mark’s Square to celebrate their victory.

Napoleon stopped the celebration in the 18th century as he was appalled by the event. It was reintroduced in the 1970s as a way to bring tourists to Venice in the low season.

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Then I wondered how this celebration began, not just in Venice – but around the world. Here are some of the answers I came across regarding various countries that I thought were interesting:

  • The development of Carnival in the Caribbean, particularly on the island of Trinidad, can be traced to the period of enslavement and the pre-Lenten Mardi Gras masquerade balls held by the French plantation owners.
  • Carnival in Italy may be linked to the pagan Saturnalian festival of ancient Rome.
  • Carnival originated as a pagan festival in ancient Egypt which the Greeks subsequently celebrated and then the Romans. The popular festival was adopted by the Roman Catholic Christian church in Europe as the festival of Carne Vale.
  • In Nice, the first mention of this type of event dates back to 1294, when Charles of Anjou, Count of Provence, mentions his visit to the city for “the joyous days of Carnival”.

Where is the Biggest Event in the World?

The Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is a festival held every year before Lent and is considered the biggest carnival in the world. Two million people attend the event every day. The first carnival festival in Rio occurred in 1723.

Carnival in Rio is the largest in the world.,
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Venice Today

Although the dates change each year, carnival is celebrated during the two weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday. The exact dates are, therefore, affected by the exact date of Easter. Generally speaking, it’s held mid-to-late February.

If you’ve never been like us, the photos on the Internet and throughout social media are exceptional. The variety of intricate, detailed costumes along with the kaleidoscope of color is unbelievable. Those who participate will congregate in certain perfect photo areas around Venice and pose. Post for photographers around the world to snap their photos.

Carnival Events

Today’s Carnevale di Venezia includes various events from street performances to masquerade balls. This event always begins with the Festa delle Marie Parade on the Grand Canal. It’s a water parade with some of the best and most beautiful costumes being presented to spectators.

An official dinner is held at the Ca’ Vendramin Calergi Palace, which overlooks the Grand Canal. This ball includes dinner, obviously, but also music and entertainment.

The Best Mask Contest free event runs throughout the event with the conclusion on the last day. Spectators can easily participate in this event by filling out an application ahead of time.

Another masquerade ball, The Ballo del Doge is the most exclusive event of the Venice Carnival. The ball itself is held in the 15th-century Venetian palace of Palazzo Pisani Moretta, situated on the Grand Canal.

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The Masks

The bauta mask design is the symbol of the Venetian carnival

These beautiful, elaborate masks have become quite elaborate over the years. In the beginning, they were very simple in design, only meaning to disguise the wearer. The Bauta is the mask that is the most worn style during carnival. Authentic Bauta masks are usually white and generally cover the entire face. In this photo, it’s gold.

Buyer be aware… masks for sale in Venice are not all the same. It is a shame that this tradition of mask-making has like many others fallen to imposters. Many, many of the masks sold in Venice and around the world are mass-produced and not by a Venitian artist. Knock-offs started appearing in the 1980s.

How to Buy Venetian Masks

  • Materials: authentic Venetian masks are made out of cartapesta, better known as papier mache which is lightweight and flexible. If what you want to buy is made out of plastic, you will see this immediately when you look inside the mask.
  • Decoration: a real Venetian mask shop has its own unique, recognizable style. If while walking the streets you see the same ‘masks’ you’ve already seen in other shops, you’re in a place selling industrial knock-offs.
  • Price: to make a carnival mask out of real cartapesta, even a very small one, can take hours of work and thus will never cost less than €10-12. If you find yourself shopping in Venice and come across a ‘mask’ that costs less than this, again, you might be looking at a fake.

An authentic shop is Ca’ Macana. If visiting Italy and shopping in Venice looking to buy real carnival masks is always an authentic experience. All their masks are made and decorated entirely by hand. They have two shops both located in the historic city center of Venice. One is in the area of San Barnaba, between the Gallerie dell’Accademia and the heart of Università Ca’ Foscari.

Collage of carnival in Venice.

Fantastic Recommendations From Diana

We have a friend in Lucca who has participated in the Venice Carnival. We love her enthusiasm about the event and loved when she dressed for Lucca Comic and Games. Here are her first-hand recommendations that you can count on to purchase authentic items in Venice and informational websites:

Our friend Diana for the Carnival spectacular
Diana permitted me to share her amazing photos!

Things to Know…

  1. What should I know before attending the Venice Carnival? You must book hotel accommodations well in advance. This event is not someone you can just wing. People book a year ahead for places they enjoy staying. Also, be prepared for very large crowds. Bring comfortable shoes for walking and go online and find out the event schedule so you don’t miss a thing.
  2. Can I Attend a masquerade ball? Attending a masquerade ball is an experience you probably won’t forget. Tickets are available and again, you should purchase in advance. These balls are prestigious events and it is essential to dress in elaborate costumes. There are places you can rent a costume but make sure you secure your rental well in advance.

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Mark your calendars…

The 2025 Venice Carnival: February 22 to March 4, 2025!

Gary… shall we attend? Do you think you’ll plan to one day?
Carnival in Venice is spectacular. How to buy a real mask and information for your next visit.

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