Italian traditions: The 10 best carnivals in Italy
- WTI Magazine #124 Feb 16, 2020
The historical origins of this annual event are uncertain, or at least complex. What is certain is that we are talking about the most colorful and creative party in Italy: Carnival! We accompany you through the 10 best carnivals in Italy among masks, costumes, parades, floats, typical sweets and local traditions.
A stone's throw from the sea, on the beautiful coast of Versilia in Tuscany, the famous Viareggio Carnival takes place, one of the most famous events in the whole peninsula - and in fact it boasts over 140 years of history. Its floats full of pungent satire make it unique, with cardboard caricatures depicting politicians, sports and entertainment personalities - and many others too, according to the imagination of the participants. It is said to be born in 1973, when some young people who frequented the Caffè del Casinò organized the first version, perhaps as a sign of protest.
Carnival gastronomic specialty: Cenci.
Carnival, as mentioned above, is an event that extends throughout Italy, peninsular and island. Even in Sicily this masked event is full of charm, especially in the beautiful and mild Acireale.
This event is defined as the most beautiful carnival in all of Sicily and remains among the best carnivals in Italy since its origins, dating back to the 16th century. At the beginning the tradition was to find oneself in the streets and challenge each other with lemons and oranges; then this citrus-based fight was banned, and today it is simply a wonderful party in the streets of the city center where floats and papier-mâché masks parade.
An exhibition of masks, flowers, colors, music, lights, confetti and fantasy. As in Viareggio, there is no lack of great caricatures of the most famous people here either. The strong point of this Carnival, however, lies in the "mastodontic" dimension of the floats that parade through the streets and that often require months and months of planning.
There are three different types of floats that parade from Piazza Duomo: the allegorical-grotesque floats (made of papier-mâché), the flowered floats and the miniature floats. The most imaginative of all will be proclaimed the winner during the closing day.
Carnival gastronomic specialty: Pignolata.
Cento (Emilia Romagna)
The Carnival of Cento has been twinned since 1990 with the Carnival of Rio, which is among the most famous in the world. This has increased the fame of the first, but it is certainly not the only reason behind its success. The presence of the event in some of Guercino's frescoes is a guarantee and demonstration of the ancient history of the tradition of Cento, and also gives it greater value. Everything else you should see for yourself: a great event, attended and felt by locals and tourists.
Tradition has it that Tasi, the carnival character of the town, leaves his belongings to the most popular people of the place, and then his mask is burnt at the stake!
Carnival gastronomic specialty: Sfrappole and Castagnole.
Carnival in Italy can also be a little less colourful: Mamoiada, in Sardinia, stands out for its originality. The real protagonists of this Carnival go against the tide and dress in black, show off sad faces, wear black sheep furs and even blacker masks. They are called Mamuthones and their story is not very clear: it seems that the parade was born as a rite in the nineteenth century to worship animals and propitiate the harvest. They carry bells on their shoulders that shake slowly. The slow movements are also due to the weight of the dress and the bells: it's hard to carry all those kilos on your shoulders, you'll notice when you look at the costumes!
The parade is spectacular, but don't worry about the gloomy atmosphere: the Issohadores, another traditional Mamoiada figure who accompanies the Mamuthones' parade, dressed in brighter colours and white masks, add the more classic touch.
Tradition has it that during the parade the Issohadores involve women from the public capturing them with a rope - a culturally charged gesture of value, because it is a good omen of fertility. The relationship between Mamuthones and Issohadores is that of animal and guardian, ox and farmer: a fusion of nature and culture that results in an excellent show.
A decidedly alternative but spectacular carnival is what it takes to rediscover tradition without being trivial.
Carnival gastronomic specialities: Culingionis de mendula (but also taste the carasau or pistoccu, which are two types of bread from Barbagia).
The Carnival of Putignano celebrates this year its edition number 626, so we are talking about a secular Carnival, rich in history.
The Carnival of Putignano is an event that knows how to mix the centuries-old tradition with the innovative creations of recent years, so expect everything from floats: it is difficult to predict the results of creativity and the mixture of tradition and novelty.
Just 15 km away are the trulli of Alberobello, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Carnival gastronomic specialty: Farrata.
The Venice Carnival is the most famous Carnival in Italy. Every year it attracts thousands of tourists from all over Europe and beyond. The city is invaded by floats and, a distinctive element of this carnival, masks of all kinds! Although, first of all, there are the unmistakable Venetian masks, the classic ones that you will probably take home as souvenirs.
The mask is the essential element of the Venetian Carnival, regardless of colors, shape, size. Seen from above, Venice will look like a bag of confetti. From inside, instead, a stage of arts and traditions. Its fame, after all, already says it all: it is the Carnival par excellence.
Carnival gastronomic specialty: Fritole.
With the oldest carnival in Italy after that of Venice, Fano is practically the alternative destination par excellence for those who have already seen that of Venice. In any case, the criteria for choosing the Carnival you want to see are many. In Fano you will find in front of your eyes a show to photograph and floats made with care and creativity.
It is a Carnival full of music, with a band of musicians who are anything but traditional, since they play using objects of any kind. You will find floats throwing sweets, chocolates and candies to the public!
Carnival gastronomic specialty: Carnival bombs stuffed with chestnut ravioli.
Let's move to Basilicata, where Carnival has a tradition with a strong link to the animal world. The Carnival of Tricarico can be recognized by the characteristic masks of cows and bulls: well-kept masks, with colored scarves attached and worn by men who drag themselves through the streets moving like animals (obviously!). And that, once in the center and once the parade is over, they disperse into smaller groups to go and eat food offered by some villagers.
According to some unconfirmed sources, this Carnival was born from the influence of Greek culture on Basilicata. According to others, instead, it is like a continuous allegory to be traced back to the local tradition of celebrating together with their animals their patron saint (of animals), Saint Antonio Abate.
A suggestion? Take a couple of days to better visit the area: Tricarico boasts a respectable medieval old town, and it's not far from Matera at all - the Sassi di Matera have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993, and it would be a great shame not to see them once you get to Basilicata.
Carnival gastronomic specialty: Rafanata.
Another of those carnivals in Italy that stand out for their originality, with an equestrian tradition that has been handed down for centuries through the characteristic Hussar Ride and the empty race of horses. However, it is best to keep an eye on the program of the Ronciglione Carnival to discover the details to be expected this year. An Italian Carnival rich in history, whose existence is documented back in time to 1870, and which still today offers traditional and meaningful masks every year, ready to parade on floats.
But the part of this Carnival that you will enjoy the most comes at the end, on the last day, when after having chased away the "Carnival King" symbolically sent away in a hot air balloon, the city treats itself to the last party with as much music and as much wine in the evening nicknamed "Il Veglionissimo". The popular style of this party is unmistakable.
Carnival gastronomic specialty: Castagnole with custard.
Located along the Serra Morenica, which with its 25 km is the longest, most massive and straightest hill in Europe, we find Ivrea, with its traditional carnival dating back to 1808. The peculiarity of this Carnival is that it boasts an uninterrupted tradition, a direct link from 1808 to the present day thanks to the authentic and punctual annual festivities never missed before!
The Historic Carnival of Ivrea requires all participants to wear a mandatory garment: a red cap. A great classic of the festival is the battle of the oranges, a war in which the weapons are the oranges and the teams of "aranceri" who parade on floats along the main streets and squares of the cities fight against the “aranceri” that parade instead on foot. And if you were wondering why the obligatory red cap, here is the mystery: it is used to stand out from the orange trees and not be targeted during the battle.
Carnival gastronomic specialty: Friciò.