Venice Carnival – the closing ceremonies and final festive fireworks

Shrove Tuesday, Martedi Grasso, Pancake Tuesday, Fastnacht Day or Mardi Gras. Whatever you call it and however you choose to celebrate it, Martedi Grasso marks the end of carnevale and the end of the party. So as the pancakes were flipping in the UK, here in Venice we crowned this year’s beauty queen, raised the Venetian flag and said goodbye to carnival with fireworks over the Arsenale shipyard in Venice.

Flight of the Lion over Piazza San Marco

Flight of the Lion – raising the Venetian flag over Piazza San Marco

The first order of the day was to crown the carnival queen, The Maria. But this is not a bikini-clad pageant of beauties. The celebration dates back to the 10th century, long before carnival celebrations began, and is linked to the ceremony to mark the purification of the Virgin Mary.

Picture depicting the original Festa dell Marie (Photo credit : www.festadellemarie.it)

Picture depicting the original Festa delle Marie (Photo credit :  )

Christians believe that exactly 40 days after the birth of Jesus, on February 2nd, Mary went to the temple for ritual purification after having given birth, as was the tradition in those days.

Venice celebrated the day by selecting 12 beautiful brides from amongst the poorest families most in need of help. The brides were blessed at the church of San Pietro in Castello and given dowries by the nobles of the city. The Doge, or President, also leant them jewels to wear and the girls processed to the Palazzo Ducale in St Mark’s Square to dine with the Doge. Meanwhile food was also distributed to the citizens so the whole city could celebrate.

Venetian legend says that in 946 AD (according to the official website of the festival) or 844, or 943 or 973 (according to other sources!) pirates from Dalmatia entered the church during the blessing and kidnapped the 12 brides, dressed in their borrowed jewels. The city was furious! The Doge promptly organised a search party to track down the pirates and rescue the girls, catching up with them at the port of Caorle, north of the Venetian lagoon on the Veneto coast. The pirates were summarily executed and their bodies flung into the water so they couldn’t be given a proper burial. The girls were rescued and returned to Venice and since that day the site has been known as the Porto delle Donzale, or the Port of the Ladies.

Parading the wooden images of the Marias (Photo credit : www.festadellemarie.it)

Parading the wooden images of the Marias (Photo credit : www.festadellemarie.it)

Over the years the parade has gone through several changes. At first it processed through the canals by boat and on foot stopping every so often s the Marias could take part in religious ceremonies and small feasts with the citizens. It was thought to be good luck to meet the Marias, not to mention a great chance to meet the most beautiful ladies in the city!

In 1349, however, the girls were replaced by wooden representations as officials felt that the girls were becoming the main attraction and detracting from what was supposed to be a religious celebration. Needless to say the decision was extremely unpopular with the populace who threw vegetables at the wooden shapes to voice their dissatisfaction! The parade was eventually stopped in 1793 and only resumed relatively recently in 1999.

The most beautiful Venetians gather for the selection of the 12 Marias (Photo credit : www.festadellemarie.it)

The most beautiful Venetians gather for the selection of the 12 Marias (Photo credit : www.festadellemarie.it)

This year's 12 Marias

This year’s 12 Marias (Photo credit : www.festadellemarie.it)

This year the festival of the Marias opened on Saturday 7th February with the parade of the twelve girls carried aloft on the shoulders of 48 men! Selected over the previous few weeks, the Marias were dressed in identically modest Venetian Republic costumes and began their procession at 2pm at the church of San Pietro in the Castello district. The parade took 2 hours, winding its way along the Riva degli Schiavoni waterfront and ending with the presentation of the girls to the Doge and citizens in St Mark’s at 4pm.

The Marias parade on the shoulders of local men (Photo credit : www.festadellemarie.it)

The Marias parade on the shoulders of local men (Photo credit : www.festadellemarie.it)

This year the festival of the Marias opened on Saturday 7th February with the parade of the twelve girls carried aloft on the shoulders of 48 men! Selected over the previous few weeks, the Marias were dressed in identically modest Venetian Republic costumes and began their procession at 2pm at the church of San Pietro in the Castello district. The parade took 2 hours, winding its way along the Riva degli Schiavoni waterfront and ending with the presentation of the girls to the Doge and citizens in St Mark’s at 4pm.

Some of the Marias take a turn on stage in Piazza San Marco

Some of the Marias take a turn on stage in Piazza San Marco

Fast forward to Tuesday 17th February, when, after the feasting and the voting, all 12 Marias processed one final time from the Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio into St Mark’s Square and up onto the stage. 20 year old Elisa Canese from Campalto, was crowned the Readers’ Maria by the local paper Il Gazzettino. And finally the official Maria for 2015 was revealed as 19 year old Irene Rizzi from Dese and introduced to the public in a glorious Japanese geisha gown (although I’m not entirely sure why!! Answers on a postcard, or leave me a comment below please if you know why….?!)

Irine Rizzi, Maria 2015

Irene Rizzi, Maria 2015

The winning Maria has several duties throughout the year but one of the most prestigious is to complete the flight of the angel from the top of St Mark’s bell tower down into St Mark’s Square next year. I hope she has a good head for heights!

This year's flight of the angel (in red) descending over a packed St Mark's

This year’s flight of the angel (in red) descending over a packed St Mark’s

Martedi Grasso was also a great opportunity for the local children to dress up! There were many princesses and fairies but some of the most imaginative outfits included Little Red Riding Hood whose actual Grandma was accompanying her!! Che carina! How cute!

A mini Little Red Riding Hood!

A mini Little Red Riding Hood!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And as the balmy Spring sun began to drop towards the horizon there was one final duty for the Marias to perform this year – to raise the Venetian flag, the red Marciana showing the winged lion of Venice.

The Marias launch the Marciana flag

The Marias launch the Marciana flag

The girls all helped to hold the huge banner aloft as it started its flight – the flight of the lion.

The winged lion of Venice takes flight

The winged lion of Venice takes flight

Flying high

Flying high

Flying high above the crowds the enormous flag fluttered and flapped finally reaching the top of St Mark’s campanile bell tower just after 5pm.

Viewing Piazza San Marco from the top of the bell tower

Viewing Piazza San Marco from the top of the bell tower

And thus ended the carnival celebrations in St Mark’s for 2015.

This visitor looks sad that carnival is over!

This visitor looks sad that carnival is over!

But the city still had a couple of final events up its sleeve as fireworks rang out over the Arsenale shipyard later in the evening, lighting up the city skyline for one last time. And then finally carnival was brought to a close at midnight with a silent, candlelit water parade from the Rialto Bridge down the Grand Canal to St Mark’s Square. Sadly, most of us were long in bed by that point!

I've hung my mask up for another year!

I’ve hung my mask up for another year!

And so, as the rowers slid silently down the Grand Canal Venice’s carnival celebrations finally closed for another year. Thousands of visitors had spent long days and nights creating a costume just for this fortnight. Hundreds of thousands of visitors more had come for the carnival experience, watching acrobats, musicians and traditional dancers on the Grand Theatre stage, walking the streets of the city and voting for the most beautiful masks. For me it meant a number of things. Creativity, celebration and the first cherry icecream of the year as the revelries closed in the sun-kissed St Mark’s Square. What was your favourite bit? Leave me a comment and let me know what your costume would be?

Carnival is over, only the confetti and streamers remain

Carnival is over, only the confetti and streamers remain

Useful information

Carnevale 2015 in Venice runs from Saturday 31st January to Tuesday 17th February 2015. (Dates will differ from year to year depending on when Lent and Easter fall so check calendars before you plan travel.)

The official website is: http://www.carnevale.venezia.it/en/events-list/

!!!Carnevale 2016 in Venice runs from Saturday 23rd January to 9th February 2016!!!

Venice Carnival 2015: Program of the main events

Saturday 31st January – 6pm Opening of the Carnival with the first showing of “The Magic Banquet – A Gourmet’s fairytale in Venice” water show along the Rio of Cannaregio with an encore at 8pm

Sunday 1st February – 11am Boat procession along the Grand Canal from Punta della Dogana to the Rio di Cannaregio. Organised by the Associazioni Remiere di Voga alla Veneta in partnership with Associazione Esercenti Pubblici Esercizi (AEPE) and Coordinamento Associazioni Remiere di Voga alla Veneta.

Sunday 1st February – Piano concert at Punta della Dogana. This guys often performs outside from concert halls in the street for free. For this concert, though, his piano is suspended above water!

Saturday 7th February  – Carnival Parade of Marie, inauguration of the Gran Theatre of St Mark’s Square, inauguration of the parties at the Arsenale

Sunday  8th February – Flight of the Angel

Sunday 15th February – Flight of the Eaglefinal of the Best Mask 2015 competition

Tuesday 17th February – Flight of the Lion, proclamation of the Mary of Carnival 2015.

In addition, the carnival program includes the “Most beautiful mask competition” and touring shows in St Mark’s Square during the day and musical events at the Arsenale every night from Saturday 7th to Tuesday 17th February.

This entry was posted in Festivals, History, Veneto, Venice and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Venice Carnival – the closing ceremonies and final festive fireworks

  1. Norm 2.0 says:

    Some stunning images in this collection!

  2. Oh I’m sorry to hear the festivities are over but your pics and descriptions were really wonderful!!!! Thank you ! Grazie!
    Ps: where can I audition to become a Maria?

  3. Lyn says:

    OMG How many people in St Marks Sq !!!!

  4. Cecelia Pierotti says:

    As always, you made me feel as if I was there!!!

Leave a Reply