It doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes it’s possible to feel relentlessly attracted by one of those “must-see-not-to-miss” places crowded with tourists that I normally try to avoid. Quite unexpectedly, this happened with Venice. How common, you might think. Indeed, it’s in Venice that I best experienced that chasing the unexpected doesn’t merely mean spotting unknown destinations the other side of the planet but also unearthing unexpected emotions and finding new passions.
Dubbed “the most romantic city in the world” countless times, Venice is probably also one of the world’s preferred subjects for comparison: so we have “the Venice of the East”, “Shanghai’s little Venice”, etc., but truth is, no matter how many countries try to boast their own Venice, no-one has ever even gotten close to the original version. Why? Because Venice is only one, its charm is spontaneous, its origins written in history long time ago, its appeal very simple, a cluster of islands and land slices lapped by a languid yet obstreperous lagoon that seems to find amusement in catching the visitor unprepared.
I just got back from my spectacular first time at the Serenessima (Most Serene) Republic, where I spent three days trying to capture its soul and the emotions hiding behind the masks of the Venice Carnival, and while I wasn’t expecting any love-at-first-sight moment, the Serenissima did it again, casting a spell on yet another person, being, this time around, myself.
Even though weather forecasts announced massive floods and severe minus-something temperatures, we got lucky (?) that hard climate conditions were only the day we arrived. Even though I was clearly relieved that both Saturday and Sunday clear skies and a favorable light made our photo trip easier, after seeing displayed in a photo studio an image of St. Mark Square completely covered with water I felt I was indeed missing some pretty spectacular views. Besides, thanks to effective warnings and my love for precaution measures, I was fully equipped with protective rain boots, so I could have handled no matter what water level.
Often synonymous with wild parties and endless fun, in Venice the Carnival goes way beyond that. Today this might be a simple festival, albeit very well organized, but back in the day of the Doge rule when Venice was the Serenissima Republic, this type of celebration was their interpretation of Roman propaganda ruse “Panem et Circenses”: stemming from the Latin motto of wild Dionysus rituals “Semel in anno licet insanire” (Once a year one is allowed to go crazy), Venetian rulers introduced this carnival where the lower classes had the chance for a little while every year to blend with the higher layers of the society, the noble clans and aristocratic families, feeling closer to and even making fun of them.
How was this possible? By hiding behind a mask.
Considered a sort of relief valve to keep social tensions under control, Venice Carnival, like pretty much all carnivals, originates from ancestral rituals performed at the end of the winter to welcome the warm season and augur well for a generous harvest.
The first written document mentioning the Venice Carnival dates back to 1094, when the city was under the rule of Doge Vitale Falier, while it was officially declared a public holiday in 1296, when the Republican Senate declared holiday the last day of Lent, even if now the Carnival comes right before Lent, a sort of concession to wild fun before the month of repentance. Actually, today the Carnival lasts much less than before, as in republican times could last several months, making people rightfully say that in Venice the Carnival fever never stops. And it’s the same Venetians’ enthusiasm towards debauchery that led the rulers to stop the excessive reveling by passing new laws on limiting the use of the mask, become by then symbol of freedom and licentiousness.
Today we all know how romantic Venice is, day and night, with any kind of weather conditions, at any season and, let’s face it, despite the outrageous prices. However, during the Carnival its charming aura is even more intense.
I loved wandering about the famous lagoon and peeping at the gorgeous masks, their slow movements and sophisticated looks, their human eyes beyond the colorful disguise, all picturing how, back in the day, the girl from the lower class could, even for only one day, meet the prince she had been dreaming of, how lovers belonging to different lineages could steal forbidden moments protected by the fancy cover.
As I walked along the banks of a lagoon that threatened high tides every day, trying to capture a fleeting glimpse of emotion beyond the mask, I was enchanted to see the colors, the passion and the excitement around every single event.
It was my first time in Venice, I definitely had not anticipated that it was going to be right during the famous Carnival, but I can totally say I couldn’t pick a better time.
I took plenty of pictures of the colorful masks and I’m aiming to create an ebook. Coming soon so stay tuned!