… and what you should know about it
The Carnevale of Viareggio just ended and I’m still super excited. I didn’t think it would have been so much fun!
A brief history
When I was at school I red an interesting book about life in the Middle Ages in Florence and one of the chapters described the time of carnival. The author described it as one of the few times during the year where freedom, happiness and fun were the only words that mattered. As a matter of fact in Italian we say “A carnevale ogni scherzo vale“, i.e. “during carnival every joke is fair” or “at carnival everything goes”. Well I just have to say that almost nothing has changed since then at least in Viareggio. Freedom, happiness and fun are still the main keywords for the Carnevale of Viareggio!
Back to modern days, the Carnival of Viareggio has its origin in the Lucca Carnival dating back to 19th century when it was just a carriage parade for aristocrats. Since it wasn’t so much fun and was only for noble people, it was moved to Viareggio when it started in 1931, as we know it and has proven by the first advertising. At that time the carnival was seen as an event to promote the city of Viareggio as a summer destination. As a matter of fact the first billboard pictured the Ondina, nice lady in bikini costume, as the main billboard’s character next to a carnival costumed figure, that will later become Burlamacco (1939), official mascot of Viareggio Carnival. Over the years the carnival has become one of the most important events in Italy and Europe, and it’s not difficult to understand why.
How does the Carnival parade works?
The Carnival of Viareggio is not just a parade or a simple show but it’s a real challenge. The big floats are real pieces of art, made by the carrista, Italian word for this master artisans. The carrista is a carpenter, an artisan, a sculpture, an engineer but above all an artist. The carrista know-how and passion is a family question in Viareggio. Almost every carrista is indeed from Viareggio (and surroundings), and over the years only few were foreign people.
The giant floats are made of papier-mâché in about 4-5 months from September to Carnival time. The building-team is made up of 5-6 people for each float plus the carrista and an engineer, curating the mechanical and structural aspects of the constructions. Generally speaking a float can be 10-15 meters long, 10 meters wide, 30 meters high and about 40 tonnes! In addition it should carry more than 200 dancing people plus 20 people of the working crew, it should be moving around the famous passeggiata, and move! Then add tailors, choreographers, and all the other staff and you’ll understand why there is the Cittadella del Carnevale, the city of Carnival where everything take life.
The floats I’ve just described are called carri di prima categoria (first category floats) and they’re 10 competing in the same category. Then there are 6 carri di seconda categoria (second category floats) that are smaller in size and 10 gruppi mascherati, that are masked and costumed groups of people with large papier-mâché masks than can reach up to two meters. Together with costumed people attended the event, they all make the Carnival of Viareggio unique.
Why the Carnival of Viareggio is the Carnevale di Viareggio
The last time I attended the Carnival I was a little child and since then the magic atmosphere of carnival disappeared in my eyes. Actually I don’t know why, but it took me almost 20 years to get back to that childish enthusiasm. And this is the Carnevale of Viareggio: happiness, freedom, enthusiasm, rhythm, music and lots of fun. The magic atmosphere of carnival is thrilling, exciting and overwhelming. You can not smile, dance and have be happy. It’s almost impossible to remain calm and serious.
I think the reason for that it’s because the Carnival of Viareggio is real and authentic. Even though it’s a national and international event, it’s still extremely local. It’s the perfect event indeed to blend with locals! The viareggini, slang nickname for the people from Viareggio, play an active role in the entire process by decorating their balconies and windows, participating actively to the event and being as much welcome and happy as they can ever be all year long.
- The Carnival of Viareggio lasts for a month and can be really crowded. The best day is the Mardi Gras, or Martedì Grasso.
- Take the train or any other public transportation. Viareggio is well connected to Florence, Pisa and Lucca. It’s cheaper, faster and safer. If you’re going to drive take the daily parking card for 8€ or park in the free-parking areas outside the city center.
- Take a funny wig, or better get a stupid costume and dress up!
- Visit the official site of Carnevale di Viareggio