I hopped off the bus from Florence and within minutes, I found myself attacked by costumed children and adults shooting silly-string in my general direction. I tried to take cover, but it was too late. This was just going to be one of the many absurdities that make up the identity of Viareggio’s Carnevale, the second largest carnival celebration in Italy after Venice.
Wiping the silly-string from my red locks and reworking my contact lenses back into place, from a blurred view, I saw giant heads coming at me. For a second, I begin to wonder just what they put in that silly-string. Surrounding me were people dressed from everything from Dalmatians to creatures even God probably couldn’t dream up. They all danced around floats that could be mistaken for real life monsters. Drawing over a million visitors a year, Viareggio Carnevale occupies the Lenten season for this Tuscan seaside town. And as Viareggio Carnevale gets ready to celebrate 140 years of this carnival madness, there is no better time to get silly-string in your hair and see ginormous papier-mâché floats coming straight at you.
How Did Viareggio Carnevale Begin?: Born in 1873, the first carnival celebration in Viareggio consisted of a parade of a few decorated carriages. The event has certainly come a long way over the years. The parade grew in size with each passing year, causing the event to relocate along Viareggio’s famous seaside promenade. By the 1960s, the floats for Viareggio’s Carnevale become more satirical. To this day, it is a tradition to have floats within the parades that make a comment on the current political situation in Italy and the world, usually at the expense of a few politicians.
What Can I Expect To See?: From children dressed as pyramids to massive papier-mâché masterpiece floats, the Viareggio Carnevale is a feast for the senses. The Masters of Viareggio build the true highlight of the event, the floats. These artists work all year to build their creations, with some over 20 meters high and 12 meters wide. The sheer size is designed to amaze the masses. Each are composed of papier-mâché or rather paper mold, the invention of Viareggio native Antonio D’Arliano in 1925. With the invention of this reworked papier-mâché, the artists creating the floats were able to build larger works out of clay, plaster casts, newsprint and glue. Aside from the giant papier-mâché floats, you can also expect plenty of festival food available, fireworks and countless parties and events.
When Does Viareggio Carnevale Take Place?: While many Mardi Gras celebrations around the world end once Lent begins, Viareggio continues its party. The dates change every year, but the masked parades always occur on Sundays before and during Lent and also on Fat Tuesday. This year’s parades will stem from February 3rd to Sunday March 3rd.
How Much Does it Cost?: While many travelers lament the expense of attending Venice’s Carnevale, Viareggio’s event is very much affordable. A ticket to one of the Sunday parades will set you back €15. Discounts are available for groups and the military. Children under 10 can enter for free. While the hotel prices during Carnevale in Viareggio can be high, it is easy to just come in for the parade and leave by night. For example, you could easily make a day trip to Viareggio from nearby Florence.
Where Can I Learn More?: After joining in a Viareggio Carnevale, you are certainly going to have an interest in finding out why one million people come for this event. Luckily, Viareggio has a more formal setting outside the parade lines at the Museo del Carnevale. Set up in the Citadella di Viareggio, an architectural complex with 16 hangers that house the giant floats as their creators work on them throughout the year, the museum details the history of this famous Carnevale. Aside from seeing various memorabilia and artifacts from the Viareggio Carvnevale over the last 140 years, you can also learn all about the classic carnival symbol of Burlamacco.
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