Get Lost In Venice's Carnival

by Slavena Zaharieva

Getting lost is every child’s nightmare, yet, as you get older, getting lost can actually be enjoyable. Not knowing where you are leaves you with the sense that a great new adventure is waiting around every corner. Plus, finding your way back to 'awareness' can be the best tour of all.

Colorful masks for the carnival.
Colorful masks for the carnival. Photo by Jonathan Miers

The Labyrinth of Venice

The city itself is a kind of magic. It makes you want to walk mindlessly round its numerous little squares (or campi), marvel at the Byzantine-Western-Arabic elements on the old buildings and read the next ‘Per San Marco’ sign on street corners with a childlike expectation. The city of Venice is a labyrinth that actually makes getting lost a real joy.

Carnival 

This is what Venice feels like in an ordinary day. During the carnival it is even more magical. These are the days when the beautiful labyrinth is filled with all kinds of costumes and masks, imaginable and unimaginable.

Feast on Life. The carnival is a special time of the year. In Western Christianity, it is the time before Lent - a time when everything is to be enjoyed, when the world turns into an endless fair of beauty, lavishness, and color. Lent is a period of fasting, of symbolic suffering while waiting for Easter. That is why the days before are considered a last chance to feast in every aspect.

A tradition, initially linked to feasting with courtesans and poets in the Serenissima (one of the many names given to the Republic of Venice), it has now become a reason for people from all over the world to gather in the great square (or piazza) of San Marco, to wear costumes and masks and to take part in one of the most famous events in the world.

Carnival is a pure feast of color. People with costumes and masks are swarming the space between the Procuratie buildings and the sound of chatter in all languages is curiously mixed with the endless clicking of cameras.

There are costumes you didn't even think possible. There are colors so bright you have only seen them in your strangest dreams. It is a mixture of classic Renaissance Italy and the spirit of a Fellini film.

One of the carnival nights you actually get to listen to music from Fellini’s movies, while sitting by a small coffee table in the San Marco square. It is one of the many events running simultaneously in the days of the carnival.

Then, naturally, as the wind from the lagoon becomes stronger, you get chilly and Fellini is no longer enough to warm your spirit. It is time to stand up and take the few steps to Florian, the oldest coffee bar in San Marco square, a beautiful place that has welcomed intellectuals traveling in Italy for almost three centuries.

Fire Eaters and Cathedrals

The carnival days are a busy time when everything happens everywhere! In the San Marco square marches the parade of unique costumes, while the people wearing them pose for a photograph or do some act according to the costume. In the little narrow streets you could stumble upon a small show of music, dancing, or fire eating. In the small campi bands are singing in different languages on temporary stages. You could stand in front of the stage and listen, or mingle with the masked crowd, sipping mulled wine, or spend some time in silence in one of the many churches where a part of the old Venice is still preserved with its marble glory.

Or, if you get tired from taking pictures of beautifully masked people, you could slip into a small, overcrowded coffee shop and have a small cup of the strongest coffee in the world. Drink it standing by the bar like the Italians do!

Then, pleasantly warm and envigorated by the aromatic brew, go out again into the street as the chilly wind from the sea now seems to be less biting and bitter. Be sure to check the schedule of the carnival so you don't miss the contest for the best carnival costume in San Marco square.

The Square– The Heart of the City

Built by a line of statesmen, including Napoleon, the great piazza is unique because it is beautiful and geometric at the same time. It is perfectly symmetrical and yet artistic in a uniquely Italian way. It is a peculiar place that is easy to fall in love with whether it's packed with thousands of people during carnival or nearly empty on a cold lonely night.

The next day, the carnival begins again with its international buzz and colorful costumes. You walk out with your camera ready, fueled by the morning cup of Italian coffee, and holding a map that won’t stop you from getting lost. Which is perfectly fine because when you get lost in the city of Venice, you will probably discover a new, unexpected place that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. A small street perhaps where the masks are different and the costumes are new, a place to join a group of amateur photographers capture a particularly beautiful costumed couple.

Getting lost is the only way to truly experience the spirit of this unique city.