Italian traditions: Carnival in Italy. The famous cities, the meaning of the festival, traditions and events

Feb 16, 2019 563

Are you sure you know everything about Carnival in Italy? We will help you with an excursus that goes from the origins, through the typical masks and sweets of the Italian carnival tradition, up to the indication of the most beautiful carnivals in Italy.

The origins of Carnival in Italy and beyond are closely linked to religious culture, as they are linked to Easter, which always falls on the first Sunday of Spring, which is the one after the first full moon in spring. From Easter Sunday you can count back 6 weeks of which 5 weeks of Lent and from there a week before you get the start date of the Carnival.

Although the link to ancient Christian customs is very strong, so much so that we also find it in the name Carnival, from the Latin carnem levare, which was to indicate the last day when it was possible to eat meat before abstinence due to the period of Lent, in some aspects of the typical ceremonial Carnival we also find echoes of the pagan festivals of the ancient Romans, which still intertwine in different ways to celebrate the Carnival.

The undisputed protagonists of the Carnival have always been the Masks, from the Arab term mascharà which means mockery, satire. Every Italian city is characterized by a mask, typical characters of the Commedia dell'Arte, which represented the domestic traditions, the popular jargon, the spirit and flavor of ancient times, survived over the years because they are able to tell and preserve the most intimate and peculiar aspects of the various Italian cities.

Among the most famous and representative of the Italian carnival tradition:

- Brighella, originally from Bergamo (Lombardia) and the oldest of the masks, dating back to the Middle Ages, a young eclectic servant, brawler, smart. His name comes from his attitude to quarrel with people, wearing a pair of white trousers and a white jacket with green designs, a hat reminiscent of the cooks and a black mask;

- Harlequin, him too originally from Bergamo (Lombardia), represented in the 1550 theatre the mask of the apparently silly servant, but in reality endowed with a lot of common sense. Symbol of the one who adapts to any situation in order to obtain advantages, originally wore a white dress, which by force of being patched up, then became of all colors and wore attached to the belt the scarsela (bag) always empty and the batocio (stick);

- Scapino, another mask from Bergamo (Lombardia)dating back to the 16th century, represents a young man who loved music and spent his time composing melodies and songs and wore a coloured costume and a cape and his faithful guitar which he always carried with him;

- Pantalone, Venetian (Veneto) mask from the sixteenth century, represents an old Venetian merchant stingy and grumpy, but easily fooled by his wife and daughters. His dress is characterized by a red jacket tight at the belt, tight socks and stockings, a black zibro on the shoulders, yellow shoes with the tip up;

- Colombina, another Venetian (Veneto) mask that represents a lively and clever servant, speaks Venetian and is very fond of her lady, equally young and graceful, Rosaura, who in order to make happy combines cheats on cheats. Colombina is characterized by a simple dress with flounces on the bottom and an apron with a few patches and a white cap on his head;

- Pulcinella from Naples (Campania), characterized by hump, hooked nose and wearing a white tunic and trousers and a black mask;

- Doctor Balanzone in Bologna (Emilia Romagna), a doctor and talkative sage who makes you think he is a great wise, but very often cheats people, wearing a black dress and above a long black robe from which sprout a large collar and white cuffs, with at the waist a large belt from which hangs a white handkerchief;

- Gianduja, Piedmontese mask, representation of a cheerful gentleman, with good sense and courage who loves good wine and good food. Piedmontese mask of Asti origin, created about 200 years ago by a puppeteer who became famous thanks to "Gironi", one of his puppets, which was advised to change the name because "Gironi" in Piedmontese dialect means Gerolamo thinking of allusions anti-napoleonic (Napoleon's brother was called Gerolamo). So the puppeteer changed the name of the puppet into Gianduja, from a nice farmer he had known, a certain Gioan d'la douja (in Piedmontese dialect, douja means mug), so called because he was a great drinker and frequenter of inns. As a farmer, Gianduja wears a brown jacket, a yellow waistcoat, a three-pointed hat and a wig with a tail turned upwards and tied with a red ribbon and the inevitable face steals; his faithful companion is Giacometta, a mask that represents a simple and very intelligent young woman;

- Gioppino, a mask born at the beginning of the nineteenth century in Bergamo (Lombardia), represents a ruddy, funny and nice farmer with a great laughter very contagious. He does not like his work because it is very tiring and unprofitable, so he always tries to make do with less demanding and more lucrative jobs, wearing a soft hat, a jacket, a shirt, short trousers and carries with him a stick;

- Meneghino, typical of Milan (Lombardia), was born in the 1600's from the fantasy of the playwright Carlo Maria Maggi, as a representation of a rough but common-sense servant, generous, hasty who can not stand doing nothing, dressed in a long brown jacket, short trousers and stockings striped red and white, hat shaped like a tricorn on a wig with a tail tightened by a ribbon. With his wife Checca, is one of the absolute protagonists of the carnivals in Milan;

- Stenterello, a Florentine (Tuscany) mask, is a young man poor in reed and hungry, who thanks to his cunning and ingenuity always manages to get away, dressed in a colored jacket with a waistcoat and short trousers underneath, has a wig with a tail and a black hat;

- Captain Spaventa, mask born around the end of '900 in Liguria, is a very special swordsman, as he prefers words to hurt the enemies instead of the sword.  He is' a young presence with a mustache and goatee, with a colorful dress and a large hat with feathers;

- Sandrone, typical mask of Emilia Romagna, who represents a peasant a little ignorant but hard working, very smart and shrewd, loves good wine and always carries with him a full flask, wearing pants to the calves and long socks, a jacket and a waistcoat, thick shoes and a hat floppy on his head;

- Rugantino is a typical mask of Lazio, characterized by a rude and scurvy behavior and wears a pair of trousers, a long jacket, colored waistcoat, striped socks and a big hat like a gendarme;

- Scaramuccia was born in Campania and he is a Neapolitan character, jester and braggart who enjoys playing jokes, always ending up taking a beating, wearing trousers with long stockings, a short jacket and a cloak, a black beret on his head and a black mask that covers his face;

- Peppe Nappa is a mask born in Calabria, but he is a Sicilian character, carefree and happy, who loves to sing and dance and every now and then he gets in trouble. He works as a servant with some rich baron to whom he scroots wine and food until he is discovered. Characterized by a long nose, he is very funny and wears a white dress with long sleeves, a pair of shoes with colored balls on top and a black hat on his head.

But the Italian Carnival is not only masks, but also floats, parades, festivals and rituals and among the most famous celebrations are certainly mentioned:

- The Carnival of Venice (Veneto), one of the most famous in the world, is an international event that transports its visitors into a magical dimension that only Venice can offer, making them participate in the "Festival" and its rituals, such as the famous Flight of the Angel or the Feast of the Gentil Foresto;

- The Carnival of Viareggio (Tuscany) famous for the parade of floats, made of papier-mâché, accompanied by masked groups that move in procession along the main avenue of the city all under the eyes of Burlamacco, the mask symbol of the carnival Viareggio, created by the painter and graphic Uberto Bonetti in 1930;

- The Carnival of Cento (Emilia Romagna), twinned with that of Rio de Janeiro since the 90s, has become an event known in Italy and Europe, able to attract many visitors, famous testimonials of this carnival: from personalities from the world of culture to politics, from entertainment to sport;

- The Carnival of Foiano della Chiana (Arezzo, Tuscany) is considered the oldest carnival in Italy, with news dating back to 1539;

- the historic Carnival of Ivrea (Turin, Piedmont) famous for the Battle of Oranges, a fight unleashed by blows of juicy oranges launched by the Jet Wagons, which draws its origin from the rebellion from an evil tyrant by the young Violetta, followed by the entire population;

- the Carnevale d'Abruzzo, or Carnevale francavillese, is an event in which floats built by skilled local papier-mâché makers, characters in costume and caricatures of personalities who have been the focus of media attention during the year, parade;

- the Carnival of Acireale (Sicily) considered the most beautiful in Sicily, where floats, made by local master papier-mâché makers, masks, bands and floats will parade along the streets of the city center;

- the Carnival of Putignano (Puglia) famous for the "Masked Courses" that for 3 Sundays will animate Putignano with theme floats with the grand finale at night of Mardi Gras;

- the Carnival of Milan (Lombardia) where the festivities do not end on Shrove Tuesday but the following weekend, postponing the Ashes and the beginning of Lent: according to tradition, at the time of St. Ambrose, on one occasion he wanted to wait for the return of the Bishop of Milan from a pilgrimage, to begin the Lenten rites;

- the Carnival of Basilicata around this not yet well known region, take place suggestive carnival traditions that, through dances and sounds of bells, colorful and "monstrous" masks, refer in allegorical form to the world of transhumance and ancient rituals peasants;

- The Carnival of Mamoiada is one of the most famous events of Sardinian folklore, famous for the parade of traditional masks, the Mamuthones and Issohadores, which is a real solemn ceremony, ordered as a procession.

Obviously, like all parties and traditions made in Italy, we could not miss a hint at the kitchen. In fact, in every region we find special and centuries-old gastronomic recipes to celebrate Carnival, which in sweets reach a particular imagination and transgression. It is not by chance that the recipes characteristics, albeit with minimal variations, see the first place in the fried desserts. To name a few: the Cicerchiata, a specialty typical of central Italy (Abruzzo, Umbria, Marche, Lazio) or the Struffoli, the response of the South to Cicerchiata. The Chiacchiere, perhaps the simplest and most "cheerful" of the Carnival desserts, and at the same time the most successful, so much so that it is found throughout Italy, although with different names: Grostoli in Friuli Venezia Giulia, Sfrappole in Emilia Romagna, Galani in Veneto, Frappe in Marche, Cenci in Tuscany, Chiacchiere in Campania. The Castagnole are typical of Friulian gastronomy; the Tortelli or Ravioli Dolci (sweet ravioli), cushions of dough stuffed with jam, dried fruit or ricotta; the Zeppole, a dessert of which we find traces already in the Naples of 800.

In short, the Carnival for its colors, flavors, masks has always been the festival of children, but also a way for adults to return children for a bit, cheerful and carefree, at least for the days of Carnival, when the saying goes "Every joke is worth" and then fully enjoy without saving energy the craziest and most colorful festival of the year!

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