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Venice Carnival: its history
Ancient records say that already in 1094 public entertainments were organized during the period before the Lent. In 1296 the Senate of Venice officialized the Carnival as a public festivity. Differently from other Italian cities, Venice was not troubled by the political struggles. The city rulers preferred not to repress the people but rather to organize several public parties and entertainments which became famous for being magnificent.
In the past, crowds of foreign people from the main land and other European states used to head to Venice to admire and take part in those famous festivities which became soon a good business for the city because of the valuable currency flow.
For three and, in some periods, even six months the city was full of loud people, masked and dressed up, who wanted to have fun, enjoy themselves, fool around and were ready to any kind of transgression in order to forget the adversities and monotony of life. In the main "campos" and in particular in the area of St. Mark, several stages were set up for the exhibitions of the tumblers, the jugglers and the tame animals.
At every hour you could ear trumpets, fifes and drum blasts. Pitchmen sold their delicacies sometime pretending they came from exotic places. The people masked and danced day and night and had fun in fooling around. This is why several restrictions were imposed. As an example, a law dating 1268 forbid that masked people throw eggs stuffed with rose and jasmin attars.
A great attraction was the "volo della colombina" (little dove's flight). It consisted in the exhibition of an audacious acrobat who let himself down from St. Mark's bell tower then replaced himself with a wooden dove strewing confetti and flowers on the crowd.
Other popular attractions were the human piramids performed both on the ground and on floating rafts. The fireworks machine was spectacular, too.
Some editions of the Carnival are considered historical such as the one of 1587 which was famous for the great number of horses and charriots parades.Then in the 1696 edition, several horse coaches transporting hundreds of noblemen in women clothes!
The Carnival developped expecially in the XVIII which was a century of decadence living on the remains of the past glories. During the long months of the festivity it was a continuous wandering around of masked people and prostitutes...
Therefore, at the falling of the Serenissime Republic the Carnival declined, then completely disappeared. The French and Austrians rulers didn't like those masked parties.
It was only in the XIX century that the middle class started to organize the so-called "cavalchine" - ball parties.
Finally, in the XX century the Carnival became the children one, fraught with fairy tales characters.
A little bit of history
Venice: its origins
Around the VI century AD, the people living on the mainland, frightened by the arrival of the Barbarians, found a permanent refuge on the islands of the vast Veneto lagoon.
The foundation of the city of Venice dates back to the first half of the IX century, when the capital of Venice was moved from Malamocco, a small coastal community of Lido-Venice, to Rovo Alto (Rialto), a much safer and stronger island in the center of the lagoon. It was surrounded by a group of smaller islands separated from each other by vast waters. A little at a time, each island built squares and churches around which the local community was built up. This is the reason why there are so many churches giving the city its multi-centred configuration.
Already in the VIII century the city stopped growing and the single islands were almost touching, separated only by the the narrow canals we see today. There are about one hundred canals and over four hundred bridges. Venice is sustained by a thick forest of wooden piles planted in the slimy ground by ancient Venetians in order to strengthen and hold the palaces and dwellings they built. Today these piles are completely mineralized and thus even more resistant. They have consequently been covered by wooden slabs and a base of Istrian stone upon which the buildings were constructed.
San Marco district
The San Marco district, including the island of S. Giorgio Maggiore, is one of the smallest areas, situated in the city's most important urban and monumental sites: Rialto and S. Marco.
In the Rialto area, characterized by closely-packed buildings and numerous narrow alley-ways, lies the commercial centre with its many shops. Instead, the St. Mark's area with the Doges' Palace and the Basilica, represents the public and religious heart of the city.
The oldest part of the town lies between the Rialto Bridge and St. Mark's. This also the most densely populated and crowded area, while the sector lying along the banks of the Grand Canal, was developed more recently.
The most celebreted cultural institutions are here: Civico Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico, Museo Fortuny, Palazzo Grassi, Libraries full of books and ancient manuscripts, and study centers. In the past, there were also many theatres, including the Fenice.
St. Mark's Square
In this Piazza (the only Square not called "campo" to distinguish it from all the others) the solemn religious and civil rites of the Venetian Population take place, now, just as they did in the past.
Today the longest side of the square is 175 meters, but once, the size and the way of moving around this area was very different. Water from the Lagoon occupied the area known as the Piazzetta, thus forming a sort of darsena (wet dock) completely surrounding the Doge's Palace and probably going as far as the Bell Tower.The Square itself was divided in the center by a canal, and other small canals surrounded the Square, thus it was accessible by water.
Around the second half of the XII century, the canal that divided the Square was filled in, and new and important buildings were contructed, giving the appearance it has today. The Basilica of San Marco started out as a chapel for the Doge's Palace and was later embellished and enlarged at the request of the city and State authorities.
Much later in 1807 the Basilica became the seat of the Episcopal Church. In front of the Basilica is the Campanile (Bell Tower), the foundations of which dates back to the IX century: at that time it was built in the form of a tower without a spire.
The ornate metalwor called "ferro" on the prow of the gondola with its shiny steel seems to cut through the air and is the most decorative feature of this renowned lagoon boat. This ferro, once called the dolphin, has undergone many changes over the centuries. It was only at the end of the 18th century that it acquired its present design. The upper part brings to mind the shape of the Doge's cap, worn only by the leading figure of the Republic, while the six metal teeth underneath represent the different districts of Venice: San Marco, Dorsoduro, Castello, Santa Croce, Cannaregio, and San Polo. The seventh "tooth", pointing to the opposite direction represents the Giudecca island, not from an administrative point of view (in fact it is part of Dorsoduro district) but because, geographically speaking, it lies directly opposite to the rest of the city.