Carnevale in Venice

Ever since its revival in the 18th century, the Venice Carnevale has been aimed at drawing visitors to the city. For the 12 days leading up to quaresima (Lent), the city celebrates, with more than half a million people attending masquerade balls, historical processions, concerts, plays, street performances, fashion shows, and all other manner of revelry.

The first record of Carnevale dates back to 1097, but it was in the 18th century that Venice earned its international reputation as the "city of Carnevale." During that era the partying began after Epiphany (January 6) and transformed the city for over a month into one ongoing masquerade. After the Republic's fall in 1797, Carnevale was periodically prohibited by the French and then the Austrian occupiers. After the departure of the Austrians in 1866, Venetians were not particularly avid in reinstating the festivities. Carnevale was not revived until 1979, when the municipality saw a way of converting the unruly antics of throwing water balloons in the days preceding Lent into a more pleasant celebration.

It wasn't long before events became more elaborate, emulating their 18th-century predecessors.

Many of Carnevale's costume balls are open to the public—but they come with an extravagant price tag, and the most popular of them need to be booked well in advance. Balls start at roughly €295 per person, dinner included, and though you can rent a standard costume for €200–€400 (not including shoes or mask), the most elaborate attire can cost much more.

Events to Watch for

Ballo del Doge (041/5233851, 041/5287543 www.ballodeldoge.com) is one of the most exclusive (and expensive) events, held at Palazzo Pisani-Moretta the last Saturday of Carnevale. Full participation in the ball, including dinner, costs €1,700 per person, but you can opt for admission after dinner, at only €800 per person.

Those on a tight budget should see www.meetingeurope.com for the Ballo Tiepolo (041/524668, 041/722285), which also takes place in the Tiepolo-frescoed ballroom of Pisani-Moretta and costs a mere €550 per person.

You don't have to blow the bank on a masquerade ball in order to take part in Carnevale—many people go simply for the exuberant street life. Be aware, though, that the crowds are enormous, and ball or no ball, prices for everything absolutely skyrocket.

Carnevale events and schedules change from year to year. If you want to attend, first check out these resources:

Consorzio Comitato per il Carnevale di Venezia (041/717065, 041/2510811 during Carnevale www.meetingeurope.com) is one of the primary event organizers.

Venezia Marketing & Eventi (www.carnevale.venezia.it) hosts the official website for Carnevale and other events.

The tourist office (041/5298711 www.turismovenezia.it) has detailed information about daily events.

A Guest in Venice (www.aguestinvenice.com) gives free advertising to public and private events, and as a result it's one of the most complete—if potentially overwhelming—Carnevale guides.

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