Carnevale – Venice, Veneto, Italy

Where All the World’s a Mesmerizing Stage

Until the expiring 1,000-year-old Venetian Empire fell to Napoleon in 1797, it seemed that it was holding on solely for the hedonistic annual Carnevale, when the well-heeled came from Europe’s courts to partake in unbridled and licentious festivities that went on for weeks, sometimes months.

Carnevale in Venice was resuscitated in 1980 and took off as if it had never skipped a beat. Leave the havoc and hedonism to Rio: Carnevale here is a reenactment of that final swan song of the Most Serene Republic, of rich damasks and powdered wigs, cascades of lace, costumes borrowed from the 18th cen­tury and reminiscent of the days of Casanova, dandies, and everywhere the characters and masks from Italy’s Commedia dell’Arte the­ater troupe.

Countless concerts and events wrestle Venice out of its wintertime hibernation, filling the piazzas, churches, and Byzantine palazzi with masquerading revelers. Off-limits to all but the luckiest invitation holders are the candlelit masked balls hosted by the descendants of the ancient doges and Venice’s once powerful noble families.

One of the rare exceptions is also one of the city’s most sump­tuous: book in advance to attend II Ballo del Doge (the Doge’s Ball), held in the privately owned 15th-century frescoed Palazzo Pisani Moretta on the Grand Canal.

It’s an evening filled with extravagant banquets and strolling minstrels, all in a magical atmosphere illumi­nated by a thousand candles, re-creating that moment when La Repubblica Serenissima still held sway and life in Venice really was as if a dream.

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