Visit Venice – it’s carnival time
Visit Venice carnival! The last weekend of the carnival is here! 25,000 people throng into St Mark’s Square. The competition for the best mask and the best costume reaches its conclusion today. A huge stage has been built in the middle of St Mark’s square and lots of parading about goes on. There is lots of loud music too. Costumes worn range from accurate eighteenth century replicas, to the most wildly eccentric creations you can imagine. Carnival, being a pre-Lent festival, means ‘farewell to meat’ and is celebrated throughout Italy. It was first held in Venice in the 11th century and consisted of over two months of revelry, until it fell into decline during the 18th century.
You may see a man with a bird cage on his head.You may see the sun, the moon, the stars or a lion. There are quite a lot of Casanova lookalikes and a Cyrano de Bergerac. Two masked characters pushing a cart full of little white fluffy dogs went by. Definitely surreal! All of the costumed characters move slowly through the crowds in a sort of dreamlike manner. They stop for the tourists to photograph them, or sometimes pause in groups to commune with each other.
There are many people here from all over the world. Armed police are arond trying to contain and direct folk around the square in some sort of ordered manner. A bit of carnival kettling is going on as the event is very busy. The fun is in danger of being outweighed by the presence of just too many tourists. Being too popular is something Venice is now struggling with.
Visit Venice – the Doge’s palace
We dodge into the Doge’s palace to avoid the crush. This grand edifice built in the Venetian Gothic style is in St Mark’s square. It is one of the city’s main attractions. The palace was the residence of the Doge of Venice, the supreme authority of the former Venetian Republic. It opened as a museum in 1923. Today, it is one of the 11 city museums run by the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia. This palace is an impressive structure indeed, a stately and marvelous creation. As well as being the ducal residence, the doge’s palace housed political institutions of the Republic of Venice until the Napoleonic occupation of the city in 1797. It was the centre of administation and law making in Venice for a thousand years! An unthinkable period of political stability today.
The palace has two great statues at the top of the huge stone staircase. This grand entrance is the Giants’ Staircase of the Doge’s Palace. It was built between 1483 and 1491 and designed by Antonio Rizzo. The two marble statues depict Mars and Neptune, representing the power and dominion of Venice on the mainland (Mars) and the sea (Neptune). The winged lion, the symbol of venice, hovers above them. Inside the palace opulence abounds, renaissance paintings are on every wall and ceiling, along with gold, gold and more gold.
Visit Venice – the bridge of sighs
The grand council chambers where justice was meted out remain impressive. The jail was adjacent to the chambers. Prisoners had to cross the bridge of sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri) to get there. It was thought that prisoners would sigh at their last chance to see a glimpse of the outside world before being locked up, hence the name.
We crossed the stone bridge to see the cells. Their stark stone darkness, contrasts dramatically with the finery of the Doge’s palace. I guess that was the point.
Visit Venice – the Correr museum
Your entry ticket to the Doges palace is also valid for the Correr ‘corner’ museum which is on the opposite side of St Mark’s square. This is another fantastic museum, full of jaw dropping exhibits. Imperial rooms run in arcades around the south side San Marco’s square. Some rooms were designed specially for Napoleon, and their ornate decor is quite beautiful. Enormous orginal Murano glass chandeliers, which are hundreds of years old hang overhead. On another floor, extensive collections of precious renaissance art, sculpture and artifacts abound. It really is worth a look. We rounded off our visit with some pricey Bellinis in the cafe. The rather elegant museum cafe is in another part of the imperial palace. It’s worth a stop though, as there is a stunning view of St Mark’s Basilica out of the window!
The carnival was originally semi religious festival connected to lent but is now more like a giant fancy dress competiton. The Mayor of Venice revived the event in 1979 because wanted to boost the ailing tourist trade. It was a very successful move. The costumed characters get to go to to masked balls and grand dinners in the evenings. There is lavish entertainment at these private parties which held in beautiful palaces around the city. I kept waiting for something else to happen. It felt like perhaps an ‘It’s a Knockout’ style competition with giant wigged characters racing around the quadrant was coming. It was all quite sedate actually, Venice definitely does things in its own eccentric way. Maybe I should start a blog called Eccentric Italy!