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The Carnival of Viareggio, the biggest Italian carnival

Carnival of Viareggio - Luca Travels Around

Last updated on 03/07/2017 at 15:45:51

Do you know which is one of the most renowned Italian carnival? Venice you say? Well, you’re not wrong but the answer you’re looking for is this one: the Carnival of Viareggio.

Viareggio is a relatively small city on the Tuscan seaside, almost equidistant from Lucca and Pisa, and it’s a popular summer destination for people all around Tuscany and not only. But between February and April, the city is famous for a big event that gathers on the passeggiata dozens of thousands of people, the Carnival of Viareggio.

A bit of history

The origin of the Carnival of Viareggio dates back to the end of 19th century when a group of wealthy bourgeoises and aristocrats from Lucca decided to parade through the city’s streets, adding to the show some coaches embellished by flowers. From that time on, every year the tradition repeats itself, as a celebration of purification from discontent and like a hymn to amusement.

As the years passed by the floats, from mere coaches, began more and more big and elaborated, to reach nowadays 30 meters in heights and 15 in length, for a weight of 40 tons. To build something like that, though, you need a material resistant but lightweight, malleable during making process but sturdy when completed. That’s the papier-mâché, the real protagonist of the Carnival of Viareggio.

La gabbia carnival of Viareggio - Luca travels Around

La Gabbia (2016) – by Luigi e Uberto Bonetti

Low-cost, but perfect for the job, papier-mâché is shaped above a plaster cast of the subject to feature, and then it’s filled with a soul of reinforcing rods, to resist the stress of the parades. Once all the elements are made, they are put together with the central structure and to the wheeled platform, the one sustaining all the weight of the masks and the about 200 masked people on the float, singing and dancing for hours. It takes several months, from the sketches to the realization itself, to make a float. When I was a child, at one of the first parades I was consciously attending, I asked my parents why the floats were the same of the week before… how naive!

Carnival is satirical, it mocks the powerful and levels out all the social classes. The main subjects are politics, internal and foreign, plus all the arguments that left a mark during the previous months, be them economic, environmental or just something related to the show business.

Crowd carnival of Viareggio - Luca Travels Around

Crowd on the promenade (2002)

Let’s parade!

As I was saying before, the Carnival of Viareggio doesn’t care to last a few days. Therefore the celebrations go along for one month, with the parade every Sunday and one during the Mardi Gras, where there is usually a live streaming on the national TV.

In addition to the city inhabitants, clear protagonists of the manifestation, many people come to the city to attend the event, from Tuscany mainly but also from other Italian regions and also from abroad.

Barbarians carnival of Viareggio - Luca Travels Around

Barbarians, close-up (2016) – by Fabrizio Galli

To crown it all, Sundays’ parades are not the only attractions during the Carnival of Viareggio! Do you truly think everything lasts only a couple of hours per week? Wrong! Every week, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night (plus Monday and Tuesday on Mardi Gras) there’s a different district celebration that gladdens (or maybe annoys, if you live there) the life of people from all ages. Stages for live music, DJs, bands’ parades, food, alcohol, and a chance above the average to find wasted people on every corner.

The official mascot of the Carnival of Viareggio, or to be more precise, the official mask, is the Burlamacco. It was created in 1931 by the pen of Umberto Bonetti and it soon became the symbol of the city. A pinch of Rugantino, a smidgen of Harlequin, its distinctive red and white colors derives from the slices of the umbrellas on the beach during summer.

Burlamacco - Luca Travels Around

The statue of Burlamacco in Mazzini square

In 2017, the masked courses will be held from 5 to 28 February 2017 (5th, 12th, 18th, 26th, and 28th), with an admission fee depending on the week, and your height and age. It’s free under 1.20 m, reduced until 14 years old or over 65, full price otherwise, but the first and last week are cheaper. You can find more info on the official site of the Fondazione Carnevale, here.

I viaggiatori dello spazio carnival of Viareggio - Luca Travels Around

I viaggiatori dello spazio carnival, closed (2001) – by Bonetti brothers

For 2017’s manifestation, a crowdfunding project has been made on eppela to gather funds for the young artists working on solo masks. Starting from 5€, you can help them and see your name as a backer on the official Carnival’s magazine or, backing some more, have a mask in your likeness, plus a free entrance to one parade and more goodies! If you’re curious about it, click here (Italian language only).

Are you ready to have fun? Did you prepare your mask to join the thousands of people during the Carnival of Viareggio? Let me know it!

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30 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Wow, this really does look like a lot of fun and especially in the Italian sun! It’s incredible to see how much detail can be put into those papier-mâché designs. The concept of the parade – talking truth to power – is certainly a fun concept and with the recent US elections, I imagine there’s been a lot of inspiration for next years parade!

    • When the sun shines, it’s really fantastic! And you’re right about next parade, I saw some sketches and there are some US election-related masks hehe

  • So creative the carnival creatures are! And they seem to be of superior quality too. Makes me think back of the masks that overflow from every shop in Venice. They surely have a way with this craft.

    • Venice is for sure another really important carnival in Italy, but as you can notice, the mood and the philosophy are quite different hehe

    • I don’t know if it’s one of the most beautiful but for sure it’s a striking one. Maybe not as much as the Rio one (it’s summer there, girls are less dressed!) but I would pay it a visit!

  • OMG this looks amazing and so much fun! I love everything about Italy! I was just there for two months this past summer and loved every second of it. This festival sounds like Germany’s Oktoberfest since it lasts for an entire month. The floats are so artistic and unbelievably realistic! Such talented pieces of art. Thanks for sharing I loved it!

    • Thanks! I can assure you that at least during the parades, the level of beer circulating in everyone’s veins is much lower than in Munich! But I can’t guarantee for the same during the weekend’s district’s celebrations hahaha

  • I never heard about Viareggio carnival either, yet I like the idea that it is not videly spread and mainstream as carnivals held in Venice.
    Hard to believe Burlamacco really is the symbol of the city 🙂

  • Love carnivals but these are so much better than the ones I have seen before!
    Those demons… I almost hoped they come alive 😉
    There is a cinematc quality to ths carnval… a movie can be shot here!

  • Woah! I had no idea this carnival existed, though that’s probably a good thing as it seems to look less of a tourist trap. Those floats are absolutely insane, I wonder how much man hours they take to build. Looks like it’d be fun to attend… though maybe not in that crowd!

    • Creating floats like those ones takes months, usually around September the sketches for the new ones are sent for approval, then everything starts! Yes I know, it’s crowded as you can see from the images, the best one maybe it’s the one on Mardi Gras, since it’s a Tuesday. And starting later in the afternoon, you could see also the lights on the floats 😀

  • This festival looks really colourful and will be thoroughly enjoyed in the balmy heat of Mediterranean Italy. Let me know about a few places to stay nearby and somewhere where I can find some authentic Tuscany grub

    • Well, consider that Viareggio is 20 km from Pisa, but if you want to try something less famous the choice, for me, it’s only Lucca. A little gem, with marvelous walkable walls around the center, it’s a must see. Then Pietrasanta, a very little town, very famous among painters and sculptors, some “VIP” of the field often work and live there.

  • Oh wow, those looks like some awesome creations. I’ve never been particularly interested in carnivals, but I would definetly not mind being around this one. Maybe it’s also cause I always think of Venice and I just cant deal with the throngs of tourists in that city 🙂

    • Well, as you can see there are a lot of tourists also there, but the bright side is that, on the contrary than Venice, the remaining part of the city is empty ahahah

    • Viareggio is a very touristic city, mainly in Summer, so there are a lot of accommodations for you. I’d suggest you look for something really in advance only if you want to have a view directly on the parade from your room, the hotels on the promenade are highly requested!

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