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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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