The Carnival of Viareggio

Lent Season is coming up soon and February is already starting off with its festive celebrations. The favourite way of celebrating here in Italy, and especially Tuscany, is the carnival. Among the most renowned, both in Italy and Europe, is the one celebrated in the coastal town of Viareggio.

The huge floats parade down the seafront promenade while onlookers, generally masqueraded, cheer them on their way. These gigantic papier-mâché movable ‘statues’ normally depict caricatures of famous people, such as politicians, showmen and sportsmen. The first carnival parade was held in 1873 when some wealthy middle-class gentlemen decided to mask themselves as a sign of protest against the many taxes they were forced to pay. They continued masking themselves every year in sign of discontent and then towards the end of the century the first floats appeared, initially made of plaster and heavy cloths, they were later made of paper-pulp.

The First World War seemed to have destroyed the Carnival of Viareggio, which, instead, resumed in 1921, after a 6 year pause, more magnificent than ever. Since then new technologies have been applied to create even more complex movements and special effects. Since 1931 the official mascot of the carnival is Burlamacco, a clown-like figure depicted by Uberto Bonetti, whose name comes from the town’s river, the Burlamacca, whereas the red and white colours of his outfit were the traditional colours of the beach umbrellas.

This month-long carnival is accompanied by masked balls and parties, a tradition born in the 1920s with the famous “colour balls”, parties in which the ladies has to wear clothes with the colour indicated, as were also the decorations, the confetti and the streamers, whereas men wore tuxedos. Famed for their balls were hotels such as the Principe di Piemonte, the Royal and the café-chantant Margherita right on the promenade.

Likewise, during the carnival period the four wards of town – Torre del Lago, Marco Polo, Darsena and Croce Verde – hold night bacchanals full of the typical wit of these celebrations, along with excellent food stalls offering the traditional, local dishes and bandstands with various kinds of music.

Since 2001 all the craftsmen have moved to the Cittadella del Carnevale, the ‘Carnival Citadel, a specially built complex where the floats can be built and kept inside huge hangars. These can be visited even outside the carnival period and it is interesting to see how these magnificent ‘statues’ are created from clay and paper. Furthermore, there is also a museum and labs where one may discover the tricks of the trade.

This year the Carnival of Viareggio kicks off on Saturday 4th February with the opening ceremony at 6.30 pm, followed by a firework display and the flag-raising ceremony. The following Sundays, until the 26th, will see the floats parading along the promenade, plus an extra show on Tuesday 21st with fireworks again. The show ends on Saturday 3rd March with the designation of the winning float and the grand finale with spectacular fireworks.

A great opportunity to see this town, known as the ‘Pearl of the Tyrrhenian Sea’, the second largest city within the province of Lucca. Viareggio is not only a well known seaside resort but also an interesting cultural centre with literary events and awards as well as worldwide famous musical events. A walk along its avenues takes you back into time, going from the 1541 Torre Matilde, a defensive fortification against corsair incursions, to the beautiful Liberty-style buildings. If you’re considering a visit to this part of Tuscany come see our  wide selection of holiday accommodations in Versilia.

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