Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Viareggio Carnival - History and Highlights

Viareggio Carnival - History and Highlights
Viareggio Carnival 2013 - Le Nozze con i Fichi Secchi
In 1873 a group of well-to-do people discussed the possibility of a parade of floats to celebrate carnival in the Viareggio town square, at one of the local Casinos. So on Mardi Gras of 1873 the first ever Viareggio Carnival took place. From these simple roots it has now become one of the finest and grandest carnivals in the world.

During the latter years of the 1800's, large floats started to appear as part of the festivities. These floats were great monuments built in wood, plaster and jute, modeled by sculptors, constructed by carpenters and iron smiths who worked at the Naval Dockyards at Darsena. The floats have since continued to navigate through great seas of surprised and amused people due to the continued satirical depiction of political and daily life.

During the First World War there was a decline in the carnival, but afterwards it roared back into life and flourished even more. Hence, by 1921 the parade was even more splendid and grandiose than ever before. In that year, the floats paraded down the beautiful seaside esplanade "viale a mare" which runs along the side the beach. Because the town of Viareggio is backed by rolling hills and the Apuane Alps, it became a very popular resort for both wealthy Europeans and Italians alike. The Carnival by then had become livelier, with a band playing on a float named "Tonin di Burio" for the first time. The band played the now traditional carnival song, "Cup of Champagne". In 1923 the first ever animated carnival figure was introduced. It was the "Pierrot", the traditional romantic figure of carnival, this figure had a moving fingers, arms, head and eyes.

Then in 1925, some sculptors took the initiative to use Papier Maché to construct the floats. This material transformed the building of the floats, allowing colossal but very lightweight figures to be constructed. These figures seemed to defy gravity, because they looked as if they were floating in the air. These sculptors innovation earned them the name of "Papier Maché Wizards" from both the Italian and international press. In 1930 the Artist Uberto Bonetti who had been designing official posters, designed the now world famous mascot "Burlamacco" which now has pride of place at the Museum of Folklore and Tradition in Rome, and can be seen at the Musee de L'Homme in Paris.

The Carnival took a break during the Second World War, restarting in 1946. It was first televised on Italian TV in 1954, and then on European TV in 1958. It can now be seen worldwide because of the introduction of satellite TV. In 1959 all the carnival floats were destroyed by a fire which spread through the hangers where the floats were constructed. This was a devastating blow, but 12 months later the carnival was back at full strength. Since the early years a long line of well-known people; politicians, sports and show business personalities have come to admire their effigies, as well as the ever increasing crowds that make the carnival so successful.

In 1998 the carnival celebrated it's 125th year. An entire month of day and night celebrations took place. Over the years masked balls, music concerts and a special "Carnival Cup" youth football tournament have been introduced.

In 2001 an landmark event took place in the history of Viareggio Carnival, namely the inauguration of a specially designed "Citadel" (Carnival City). The Carnival City is a multifunctional site with huge hangers that house the floats during construction, a laboratory where schoolchildren can come and learn the basics of Papier Maché, a museum which houses a wonderful array of historical materials about the carnival, and a great arena which is used during the summer for shows, concerts and cultural events.

In 2002 Viareggio Carnival earned the well deserved title of "The Carnival of Italy and Europe". The carnival now runs every weekend during lent with both daytime and evening activities taking place. The carnivals now include marching bands, masqueraders, floats and dancers. Many groups come from all over europe to join the celebration.

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