Explore unique culture of masks and costumes at Venice Carnival
Updated 08:38, 07-Mar-2019
By Michal Bardavid

The tradition of the Venice Carnival began in the 11th century and continued until the 18th century before a period of pause and was relaunched in 1979. It has since become a fascinating event that draws thousands of visitors to the Italian city each year.

This year's theme is "Tutta colpa della Luna," or "Blame the moon," inspired by the 50th anniversary of humans first landing on the moon. Even though there are many carnivals taking place around the world during this season, the people in Venice say their event is unique as visitors become stars themselves, they say, "To feel it, one must participate in the Carnival."

Venetian masks and costumes are the core of the carnival. In history, the masks were a source for social equality. Lower classes enjoyed wearing a mask and breaking down social divisions – even for a short while. The costumes also created an outlet for expressing tension and anger in society.

Nowadays attending the Carnival is a cultural event that takes one back in history. There are Venetian workshops such as Atelier Flavia who have been making special historical costumes from the 15th century. 

Masks at Flavia Atelier in Venice, Italy /CGTN Photo

Masks at Flavia Atelier in Venice, Italy /CGTN Photo

The owner Flavia explained that making a costume takes between one or two months on average and that it requires mastery. She said that wearing a costume gives people freedom. "It's a moment of pleasure because you can be the one you would like to be in your life, so behind the mask, you are another person, and this is very important for Venice," she said.

Choosing a costume and getting dressed by artists such as Esther who works at the Flavia Atelier is a fun experience. Step by step, layers are added starting with the inner garments, the dress, the accessories and of course the masks.

Ultimately, the identity of the person in costume can be completely anonymous. Flavia says she has international customers who come to the carnival annually and request a different costume each year.

A guest gets dressed by costume designer Esther at Flavia Atelier in Venice, Italy. /CGTN Photo

A guest gets dressed by costume designer Esther at Flavia Atelier in Venice, Italy. /CGTN Photo

Part of the pleasure is walking around the streets in Venice in full costume and enjoying being the center of attention. Taking photos with people in costume is part of the cultural experience in Venice. 

One participant from Germany is wearing a "sun" costume. His paper-mache mask is made to perfectly fit his face. He said, "It's great, it's to have a new character, to show something from inside what you are. I see the reactions of the people and they tell me it's beautiful and that's wonderful."

Fabio Momo is the co-founder of the Tiepolo atelier which also organizes the Tiepolo Ball. He says Venice creates a unique opportunity. "In Brazil, you have wonderful shows and costumes, but you look at the show – great, but you look at the show, here, when you wear a costume, you are the center of the attention, you are the show!" he said.

Johan, a German tourist who has been attending the Carnival for the last 15 years, is enjoying posing like a star – or in this case – like the moon. He is dressed up in a moon costume. Johan said, "The spirit in Venice is still there, the spirit of Carnival and people really want to make beautiful costumes and kind of artistic costumes and when you meet people in the street, everybody is so happy to see wonderful costumes and that's fantastic."

Tiepolo Ball at the Venice carnival /CGTN Photo

Tiepolo Ball at the Venice carnival /CGTN Photo

One of the most spectacular scenes of the festival can be enjoyed within the famous balls of Venice. Fabio said these balls are unique in nature because balls have an atmosphere of elegance that would be impossible to create without the costumes.

Balls of the Venice carnival are exclusive and require a ticket or invitation to attend. But once inside, they tend to take you back in time, and costumes are mandatory to enter the party. At the Tiepolo Ball that took place inside the famous Pisani Moretta Palace that was built in the 15th century, chamber music welcomed guests. 

To make the night even more mesmerizing, guests savor a meal in a candle-lit room. If it weren't for the smartphone capturing selfies, it would be a scene that could be mistaken for 17th century Venice. 

(Cover: Participants are dressed in Venetian costumes and masks. /CGTN Photo)