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An enormous pirate ship float sails through the streets of Putignano in Puglia.

Celebrating and Having Fun at the Unique Carnevales in Italy

In early March, every city in Italy will be invaded with masks, confetti, colors and lights that make for a very exciting and unique atmosphere. It’s Carnevale…a party with ancient roots, which today has become a folkloristic rite in which traditions and fun work together to bring enormous life to this unique celebration. This year, Shrove Tuesday is on March 5. If you are fortunate to be in Italy on this date, do not miss the opportunity to see a Carnevale festival, even if you are not in Venice.

Semel in anno licet insanire,” or madness, permissible once a year, is an ancient Roman saying that seems particularly suited to Fano in the Marche region, home to one of the most famous carnevales in Italy. During more than a month of festivities, the people of Fano fill the city streets, abandoning their daily routines and throwing themselves into a flurry of festivity and processions. Fano’s Carnevale takes place with no expense spared and everyone joins in the festive atmosphere.

The Fano Carnevale dates back to Medieval times, on the occasion of the reconciliation between two respectable families of the time, the Del Casseros and the Da Carignanos. Yet history and tradition are not the only important characteristics of this festivity that is attended by tens of thousands of people.

This pre-Lenten celebration is the world’s sweetest and the only one where you can watch and take part in a no-holds-barred battle fought with chocolates. Hundreds of pounds of sweets, caramels and chocolates are showered from parade floats onto the crowds of spectators who join in, young and old alike, throwing their “ammunition” at each other.

Puglia is another region with the most Carnevale celebrations, from Massafra to Gallipoli and beyond to Poggio Imperiale, the season sees a continual succession of processions and masquerade balls. Particular mention goes to the Carnevale of Putignano, a town in the province of Bari.

Immersed in the Itria Valley, Putignano boasts the longest Carnevale of them all, beginning December 26th and ending on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday with an evening parade and the “funeral” of Carnevale.

The origins of this celebration go as far back as 1394, making it one of the most ancient carnevales in Europe. It was in that year that the Knights of Malta brought the relics of St. Stephen from their original site of preservation, St. Stephen’s Abbey in Monopoli, to Putignano in order to protect the saint’s remains from the Saracens.

Upon the relics’ arrival, the peasants abandoned their vineyards to follow the procession. Once the religious ceremony had concluded, the people celebrated with festive song and dance. Legend has it that a recitation in local dialect, with improvised verse and irony, gave life to their unique custom of “Propaggini.” Today in Putignano, poets recite in dialect on a stage in the main piazza, alternating one with the other for hours to come up with their best satirical rhymes to entertain the people.

As with all the Carnevales, the town explodes with masks and papier-mâché floats that parade the city streets in all their colorful magnificence. The splendid area around Putignano offers not only amazing sites to be seen by tourists, but also the prized gastronomic traditions of the local cuisine.

The Carnevale of Acireale, considered one of Sicily’s most beautiful, takes place in this magnificent Baroque city in the province of Catania. Acireale boasts an ancient tradition, having begun in the 16th century. At the start of the 1700s, the Carnevale took on more refined tones thanks to a new addition, abbatazzi or folk poets, who improvised rhymes on the streets. In the 19th century, the cassariata then came on the scene, a parade of distinguished, horse-led carriages from which nobles launched sprays of candy and confetti at spectators. Then in the 1930s, papier-mâché masks entered into the picture, along with floats led by steers and accompanied by various characters and satirical groups in constant movement. The Carnevale of Acireale has become even more spectacular with its parades and outrageous floats which draw thousands of tourists.