Venice Lagoon; An Enchanted Treasure to be discovered.
Venice has been a favourite destination for travellers & traders throughout the ages. In antiquity, Venice was a junction of the trading routes across the world, a powerhouse of trade in both luxury & necessity goods. The Routes I am referring to are the Northern connecting to Constantinople, the Southern via Alessandria in Egypt & the Oriental Silk Road to the East. Merchants exchanged such goods as salt, grain, pearls, gems, spices, feathers, silk, cotton & brocade to mention but a few. Making it a long-time perennial destination for travellers, traders, shoppers, fashionistas & dreamers. Venice is also the city that hosts the most spectacular of events including the Venice Film Festival, Couture Fashion Shows & the most enchanting of them all Venice Carnival!
Did you see the footage of the Dolce & Gabbana fashion show in Venice that was blitzed by a freak hailstorm? Just like Venice it was a glamorous enchanting gala! It made me think about my own visits to Venice & the treasure trove I have acquired. The treasures include Venetian masks, souvenirs, Murano glass accoutrement & beads, my Rene Caovilla shoes, Italian couture & a Venetian cloak (integral to conceal your identity going to a masquerade ball) all essentials for full Venice Carnival dress. But in lockdown in Sydney, Australia, all I can do is go out to the balcony!
However, we can all dream of travel past & future. Now I’m reminiscing about the times I’ve been to Venice & remember all about the history of this fascinating place. In particular, the masks that make Venice Carnival the enchanting extravaganza it is today, for indeed it’s a treasure for Venetians & travellers alike. The city of Venice is a UNESCO World Heritage site & is a gorgeous backdrop to the Venice Carnival Festival.
Once upon a time as the story goes, the Venice Carnival began when the Venetian Republic was won in the year 1162. As a mark of solidarity & triumph the townspeople gathered & danced in the San Marco Square.
The tradition continued & around the 13th Century masks began to be worn originally to conceal the wearers’ identity & social status. It seems while Carnival was on the laws were relaxed. These laws prohibited people wearing certain clothes as a means of regulating & controlling the poorer classes, also to balance trade by limiting the sale of expensive imported goods. It was a way to keep the lower classes in their place. But during the festival this anonymity allowed people of different classes to mix, all social barriers were removed & people dropped their inhibitions. They were free to have fun with whoever they liked - you could say they were the original catfish!
Traditionally people were permitted to wear masks between 26 December, St Stephen’s Day & till the end of the carnival Shove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, the day before Lent.
Originally masks were made from materials like papier-mâché, clay, fabric, ceramic or leather. The early masks were embellished with coloured beads & feathers. Today masks are made of the same materials as well as lace, velvet, lacquer, adorned with glitter, sequins & Swarovski Crystal.
It was in the Baroque times of the 17th century that the festival transformed into the elegant festival we know today, when Venetians wanted to lift up the image of Venice in the European community. The streets of Venice turned into an enchanting place of beauty, fantasy & intrigue. During Carnival where this centuries old tradition of wearing masks & extravagant costumes continued, the festival flourished over the years.
By the 18th century Venice Carnival became one of the most popular festivals in Europe, people would come far & wide to take part in the fun & frivolity. Venice was known for its gambling; it was the Macau of its day! Venice was party town, music & dancing happened nonstop. It was the time of the famous womaniser Giacomo Casanova who cavorted his way around Venice.
1797 the Austrians took control of Venice & Carnival nearly disappeared for two centuries. In the 1930s Venice Carnival & the wearing of masks was banned by the fascist government. Then miraculously in 1979 a small group of enthusiasts revived the enchanting wearing of masks & costumes for the Carnival. Soon artisan studios & shops opened up all over the historical city where people could buy their gorgeous masks & costumes. Now the Venice Carnival has regained its glorious tradition. The event is famous worldwide, locals & tourists alike take part in the festival, where people dress in extravagant lavish costumes & intriguing masks, they frolic in the streets & bring enchanting fantasy to the city. Thankfully year-round tourists can buy souvenirs of the famous Venice masks, costumes & cloaks. The traditional characters are Harlequin, Pantalon, Punch, Brighella, Scaramouche, the Plague Doctor & beautiful Colombina, now there are even new characters too!
This enchanting festival is welcome for anyone to take part in. All you need to do is pack some fine threads & accessories to wear, or once in Venice you can buy from one of the many magnificent shops in town, plus of course you can by the iconic masks & authentic concealing cloaks, essential for a dramatic entrance at a masquerade party. Now you know the history & how to take part in this event, you can go create your own Venetian adventure!
My own photo's from Venice and my favourite Italian cocktail "Aperol Spritz."
To read more about what there is to discover in Venice you might like to read my blog post “Venice Lagoon an Enchanting Treasure Trove to be Discovered – Part 2 of 2 private boat charter the ultimate freedom”
Summary refection: If time was a traveller what stories would it have to say? It’s so interesting to see how the world changes over time. How do you think the pandemic we are living through will be seen by people of future generations?