It’s party time!

Carnival celebrations from north to south

Elizabeth Gorga
February 16, 2012

Carnevale, known in English as ‘carnival,' is a centuries-old tradition across Italy. The rituals go back to ancient pagan festivals but through the years were adapted to the Catholic church calendar. The word comes from the Latin carne vale, meaning ‘farewell to meat,' and it refers to the 40 days of restrictions during Lent. However, carnevale has become much more than a brief farewell to protein-rich comestibles. It is a celebration: a time for parties and parades, masquerades and confetti, music and dancing, fun and merrymaking. Italy's best-known carnival celebrations take place this year on February 21 (Fat Tuesday) in Venice and Viareggio, known, respectively, for their elaborate costumes and masks and satirical papier-mâché floats. However, from north to south, Italy's other regions mark the pre-Lent period, and Italy's biggest and best pre-Lent parties represent a surprising array of traditions. Use TF's short list to make last-minute plans for this year or keep it handy for future editions.


Ivrea: The battle of oranges

February 18 to 21


The most acclaimed carnival in the Piedmont region is in the town of Ivrea. Not only will you witness a fun and colorful parade put on by the town's districts, but you'll also be catapulted into an orange-throwing battle in the city center. However, this battle is more than a just good food fight: it is a symbolic re-enactment of a people's revolt. Battles are fought in the town's historical squares between orange throwers on foot, who represent the people, and the officers of a once tyranical feudal lord, who duck the flying fruit from atop wagons drawn by horses. For three days the streets of Ivrea are filled with crushed citrus and the battle ends with the burning of the scarli, a great bonfire in the center of town in which poles covered with dried branches and leaves are set aflame. Interestingly, the preferred fruit launched at this traditional event used to be apples; no one knows how oranges eventually came into play as they are native to Sicily, in Italy's south, and must be shipped in for the battle. Fun fact: An estimated 265,000 kilos of oranges were brought to Ivrea from southern Italy in 1994. For more information, see


Verona: The Gnoco on a fork

February 17


The city of Romeo and Juliet also boasts an old carnival, dating back almost 500 years, but you won't see any romance there. Unlike other festivals in Italy, Verona, made famous for the two Shakespearean lovers, surprizingly celebrates its season with food: gnocchi pasta is meant to commemorate Tommasco da Vico, a wealthy Renaissance nobleman who donated flour to the poor to make gnocchi during an emergency food shortage centuries ago in the city's St. Zeno area. Surviving the test of time, the tradition stuck and visitors will see the Papa del Gnoco (‘father of the gnocco') leading the parade to the St. Zeno church, carrying a giant fork topped with a huge gnocco. After the parade, celebrate carnival with the locals and enjoy a steaming plate of fresh gnocchi and a glass of wine. See (in Italian) for more information.


Cento: Brazil in Italy

February 5 to March 4


Forget the trip to Rio de Janeiro: celebrate carnevale with a Brazilian twist in Cento, a town in the Emilia Romagna region. Cento has been twinned to the carnival in Rio de Janiero since 1993 and claims to be one of the oldest carnivals in the world. During the parade of giant, Brazilian-style papier-mâché floats and dancers, Italians cruise on their motorcycles, tossing some 30,000 pounds of chocolates, sweets and confetti to the people lining the streets. After the big parade, the crowd votes, and the best, most authentic Brazilian float is sent to be a part of Brazil's carnival. The celebration ends with an extravagant fireworks show. For more information, see (in Italian).


Arezzo: Contest and ritual

February 5, 12, 19, 26


If you have already been to Viareggio, go to the province of Arezzo this year for another old and established Tuscan carnival tradition, the Foiano della Chiana carnival, which is held on the four Sundays in February. During the year, the town's four districts build elaborate allegorical floats, each vying for the Carnival Cup. When music and medieval entertainment flood the streets each Sunday, not only are the floats amazing, but the festivities also include the burning of Giocondo, the King of Carnival. During this ritual, locals hear an overview of the past year, which is the ‘will and testament' of the ‘king,' before an effigy is burned to celebrate the town's rebirth after winter. For details, see (in Italian).


Barbagia villages in Sardinia: Mayhem andmagic

February 16 to 21


Barbagia is an area in Sardinia in which each village has its own carnival tradition, but all of them are influenced by ancient cults and mysterious pagan rituals about the world turning upside down and humans becoming animals. In the town of Mamoiada, for instance, humans-turned-animals called Mamuthones begin to appear on January 16. During carnival, the townspeople dress in sheepskins, wooden masks and, to ward off evil spirits, carry around with them about 30 kilos of cowbells. The Mamuthones walk alongside the Issocadores, people in traditional Spanish costume and bearing lassos. Meanwhile, in the nearby village of Orotelli, the townsfolk masquerade as blind people or ‘creepers,' known as Sos Thurpos, also to ward off evil. With their faces blackened by burnt cork (a raw material native to the island), wearing dark hoods, black velvet suits, leather boots and long black shepherds' coats, the Sos Thurpos walk the streets during carnival, also wearing cowbells to ward off evil. Although these traditions might seem quite grim at first glance, visitors will soon realize they involve much merrymaking: during the local parades, the humans dressed as Mamuthones and Sos Thurpos dance around, making animal sounds, asking for wine and coaxing spectators to join in the fun! For more information, see


Sa Sartiglia: The equestrian carnival

February 21


Sardinia, a beautiful island in the Tyhrennian sea, boasts fascinating legends and lore. Another famous carnival on the island takes place in the town of Oristano, which carries visitors and townsfolk back to medieval times with a series of street parades and demonstrations of equestrian skill. Held every year on Fat Tuesday, La Sartigilia is a day-long festival followed by traditional horse races and jousts. Local men don medieval dress and white masks and ride horses covered in flowers through town, swords in hand. The evening ends with a performance of acrobatic riders on horseback, called the race of the Pariglie, in the historical center. For more information, see


Putignano: Puglia's long good-bye

January 17 to February 21


Italy's deep south, the region of Puglia, is home to the country's oldest carnival celebration called the Putignano, a tradition that dates back more than 600 years. For more than a month leading up to Fat Tuesday, children dress in costumes every Sunday. Every Thursday, a float parade features scathing papier-mâché replicas of politicians and others, each week mocking a different target, from priests and nuns, bachelors and married women, to politicians and cinema stars. Although confetti covers the streets from Christmas until Easter, Puglia's carnival actually ends on the Tuesday before Lent, when most other festivals begin. Representing the townfolks' farewell to meat in the pre-Lent period, locals take part in a funeral procession of a pig. For details, see (in Italian).


Acireale: Fantasy in Sicily

February 4, 5, 11, 12, and 15 to 21


People travel from all over the world to witness this special carnival, said to be one of the most beautiful in Sicily, with its unique floats. Several parades during the month include performers and papier-mâché floats featuring celebrities, politicians, fantastical characters and animals that are brought to life with internal illumination systems and life-like mechanical movements. The parades move through the center of town and the extraordinary floats go on display after the fireworks on the last day of the carnival. For more, see




Support The Florentine

The Florentine: keeping you connected.

Established in 2005, The Florentine remains true to its mission as a community magazine. Whether you live in the States, the UK or here in Italy, our aim is to keep you connected to Florence through news, events, arts + culture, food + wine and much more.

Please make a contribution, small or large, so that we can continue our coverage from Florence.

Personal Info

Donation Total: €20,00

more articles