Category: Venice

The origins of the Carnevale of Venice?

The famous Carnevale of Venice will begin in less than a month. We’ll be posting about this grand tradition of the Veneto in coming weeks. The following is a note from our blog master on the origins of the festival.

No one knows the true origins of the Carnevale of Venice.

We do know that the festival began in the high middle ages, probably in the 1100s.

And it’s likely that its beginnings were related to ancient pagan traditions that called for a time of feasting when winter ended and the hard work of spring began.

Those same traditions later expressed themselves in Judeo-Chirstian rituals.

The Passover, for example, was a spring festival that can probably trace its roots to a pagan celebration of spring.

Easter is the Christian expression of that same tradition: Jesus’ Last Supper, it is widely believed, was a Passover seder.

The Carnevale always ends on Strove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.

For Christians, Lent is a period when “something is given up,” a time when many devout Christians fast and in the case of practicing Catholics, they give up the consumption of meat.

For this reason, many believe that the name Carnevale is derived from or is a corruption of the Latin carnem levare, literally, the removing of flesh [meat], although no hard evidence exists to support this claim, however likely it may be.

The fact that many Christians give up meat for Lent on the day after the conclusion of Carnevale is probably what gave us the expression, mardi gras in French, martedì grasso in Italian, or fat Tuesday in English.

Many believe that the word grasso refers to our own fat (as a result of consumption). In fact, in Renaissance parlance, “feast” days when meat could be consumed where called grasso days, while “fast” days where referred to as magro or “lean” days. (The Maestro Martino Renaissance cookery book [circa 1450], which I translated for University of California Press in 2005, has scores of “grasso” recipes and “magro” recipes; the latter are mostly vegetarian dishes that masquerade as meat dishes.)

However distantly related, the Mardi Gras of New Orleans has its roots in this tradition.

It’s important to remember that during the middle ages and the Renaissance, when the Carnevale became an officially sanctioned festival of Venice, Catholics had rigid dietary laws that restricted the days of the year when meat could be consumed. Most scholars concur that the Carnevale was originally conceived as a celebration of indulgence and excess to be held before Lent called for abstinence.

It’s also important to remember that Venice, historically, was widely known as a city of indulgence and excess. By the time the Carnevale was embraced as an official festival by the patricians of Venice, the lagoonal city was the prostitution and gambling capital of Europe — the Las Vegas of its day.

With this in mind, it’s not a stretch to view the Mardi Gras of New Orleans as a direct descendant of the original Carnevale.

We’ll probably never know the exact origins of the Carnevale or the name itself. But that’s part of the mystique and mystery of Carnevale that makes it so fascinating for us.

Jeremy Parzen

The best wine bars in Venice

Let’s face it: Venice is one of the most expensive places in the world to eat.

The restaurants, like the hotels, charge high prices.

This is due in part to the fact that everything on the lagoon costs more (because it has to be delivered there from the mainland)

But it’s also due to the fact that tourists are always expected to pay more for goods while on vacation.

Venice is, after all, one of Europe’s greatest tourist destinations.

What a lot of people don’t know is that the Venetian wine bar — the cicheteria or bacaro — is an affordable way to dine when visiting Venice and it gives tourists a glimpse into what life is really like there.

Small plates (similar to Spain’s tapas) are called cicheti (pronounced chee-KEH-tee) in Venetian. Most believe the term comes from the Latin ciccus (Greek κίκκος), meaning a trifle or mere nothing. Because of the popularity of cicheti, the wine bars are often referred to as cicheterie (chee-KEH-teh-REE-eh).

The other name for the Venetian wine bar is bacaro (BAH-kah-roh). No one knows the true origin of the world. Some believe it comes from Bacchus. Others believe it comes from the Italian bacca, meaning berry or grape berry.

Bacaro culture is centered around small-plates meals and small glasses of wine (ombre in Venetian; see this post).

It’s a truly affordable way to dine there and it’s also a way to understand Venetian food and wine traditions.

Here’s a post (in Italian) by one of our favorite Italian food bloggers, Massimo Bernardi of Dissapore: A Guide to the Best Wine Bars of Venice.

English speakers will find all the contact info and a great Google-generated map to their locations.

The best wine to drink at the bacaro? Prosecco, of course!

Image via Dissapore.

Carnevale starts tomorrow! Don’t forget the “ombra lunga”…

carnevale carnvial venice 2014

The Carnevale of Venice starts officially tomorrow, although events are already underway.

Have a look at the English-language program of events here (available in Italian as well).

One of the reasons why Venice is such a great place to throw a party like this is that there are no cars on the main island in the Venetian lagoon.

And Carnevale-goers, even after plenty of vigorous revelry, never get behind the wheel of a vehicle after they’ve been drinking.

(Known for their love of drink, the Venetians and the Veneti in general are proud of their ability to “hold their wine,” so to speak, and Carnevale is a time of year when indulgence is more than socially acceptable.)

One of the unofficial traditions of the Carnevale of Venice is the ombra lunga or ombra longa.

A few weeks ago, we posted on the meaning and origins of the Venetian word ombra, a small glass of wine.

It’s a word that you hear often in Venice.

Dame do ombre (dammi due ombre), give me two little glasses of wine is an expression that you’ll encounter over and over as two friends enter an osteria or bar.

The ombra lunga — the “long” small glass of wine — is a sort of drinking game whereby you and your friends start at any point in Venice, during the Carnevale, of course, and you head toward Piazza San Marco (the epicenter of the party), stopping at every bar for an ombra on your way.

Part of the fun is the drinking with your friends. But the real fun lies in the adventure of wandering through each campo (square) and seeing the entertainment and bumping into other revelers.

I’ve done it myself and I can tell you that it’s just one of those experiences that you want to do at least once in life.

It goes without saying that the IDEAL wine for an ombra is Prosecco, the unofficial official wine of Venice.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed the Carnevale posts as much as I have writing them.

Oh to be in Venice for the Carnevale this year! I wish I could be there every year… The festival is a true national treasure of Italy and it could only take place in the magical city on the lagoon, Venice.

Thanks for reading!

—Jeremy Parzen

Image source: Carnival of Venice 2014 official site.

Carnevale 2014 resources

carnevale hotel venice carnival

In the days before the advent of the internets, planning your trip to the Carnevale of Venice was a daunting task: there simply weren’t a lot of resources to help you coordinate your travel, hotel, and events that you didn’t want to miss.

Today, there are two excellent online resources.

The first is the Carnevale di Venezia official site and it features an excellent English-language version of the entire site.

The second is a relatively new site called Venezia Unica.

Not only does it feature a page devoted exclusively to the Carnevale, but it also offers visitors to purchase transportation passes and other multiple-event passes that can be customized. The transportation passes are great, especially if you plan on traveling about the lagoon to the various islands, etc.

One of the biggest problems for anyone traveling to the Carnevale is where to stay.

Hotels can be very expensive in Venice and most of the hotels on the main island are booked long in advance.

One of the best solutions is to stay on mainland Venice or even as far away as Padova: from Padova, it takes just 30 minutes by train to arrive at the main train station. And there are many towns and stops in between with good access to the trains, which run regularly throughout the day and dinnertime.

One of my own best-kept secrets is the little town of Quarto d’Altino in mainland Venice. It has its own train station, which lies on the Trieste-Venice line.

Most of the hotels there offer shuttle service to and from the station and the trains run regularly to Venice.

And here’s the best part: many of the hotels there are beautiful 18th-century villas that have been converted to be used as hotels and restaurants. Some of them are beautiful and very charming and some of the seafood restaurants are excellent.

Use the “search nearby” feature in Google maps and you’ll see how many great hotels there are there.

Image source: Carnevale di Venezia (official site).

Carnevale (Carnival) 2014: a new series

Here at the Bele Casel English-language blog, part of our mission is to share our interest in and passion for the rich cultural history of the Veneto and Venice.

With this post, we’re launching the first in our series devoted to the Carnevale di Venezia, the Carnival of Venice, the annual festival held every year during the two weeks that lead up to Lent.

For some the festival is an occasion to wear traditional costumes or creative ones (like the classic maschera or mask, pictured here). There are also a number of events and concerts organized throughout the city and the Venetian lagoon. And for some, it’s just a great excuse to party… It wouldn’t be carnevale, after all, if you didn’t indulge (in moderation).

Check out the Wiki entry for Carnevale. It has a great section devoted to the traditional masks and their origins.

And don’t miss the official website for the festival: it’s got all kinds of information and resources for the festival, including lodging info and a calendar of events. It’s a really neat site, actually. And it explains this year’s theme, Wonder and Fantasy Nature.

Stay tuned!