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The spectacular Carnival of Viareggio in Tuscany

The carnival season is coming to an end, but there is still time to get to know one of Italy’s most famous celebrations: il Carnevale di Viareggio.

The story of the renowned Carnevale di Viareggio is far less famous than the event itself. It all began in February 1873, when a group of young gentlemen decided to organize a carriage parade to celebrate the carnival. Lower classes, dismayed by the frivolity of the wealthy organizers, wore their masks and took to the streets to protest and distract from the procession. That’s how the controversial and satirical mood has become an integral part of the celebration. Since then, this colourful event has been attracting thousands of people every year. 

The giant floats

Passeggiata di Viareggio
La Passeggiata di Viareggio, the promenade by the sea, is among the key locations of the parade

The reason this carnival is so popular has much to do with the giant papier-mâché floats that parade on the promenade to the sea, surrounded by festive masked crowds. They are the largest papier-mâché floats in the world, authentic travelling theatres made by over 250 creative professionals to impress a wide audience and a demanding jury.

Celebrations in 2020 started on Saturday, 1 February, with the opening ceremony and the first giant float parade, and will end on Tuesday, February 25th, when the last parade will be followed by the awards ceremony and fireworks. This year it is possible to admire 9 first class floats, 5 second class floats, 9 group masquerades, and 8 individual masquerades.

The floats celebrate popular figures and mock politicians and the obsessions of contemporary society. With its caricatures, the Carnevale di Viareggio deals with topical issues either laughing at them or providing food for thought. Contemporary social media mania, artificial intelligence, environmental awareness, universal love, the fight between culture and ignorance are among this year’s themes.

“Home sweet home.  Nessun posto è come casa”
Greta Thunberg as a contemporary Dorothy for “Home sweet home. Nessun posto è come casa” (2020)

Above you can see a sketch for “Home sweet home.  Nessun posto è come casa by Lebigre and Roger. This first class float uses the characters of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to tell us that we can save the only home we have, our planet, by relying on our brain, courage, and heart, led by a modern-day Dorothy, young environmental activist Greta Thunberg.

Traditional masks: Burlamacco and Ondina

Burlamacco. Carnevale di Viareggio
Burlamacco, the jolly jester in white and red

Burlamacco, the official mascot of the Carnevale di Viareggio since 1931, was created by Uberto Bonetti, a local painter and graphic designer. Inspired by the theatrical masks of the Commedia dell’Arte, Burlamacco embodies Viareggio’s beachside spirit. Dressed in white and red like the striped umbrellas that line the shore, Burlamacco was intended to represent two important times of the year for the city: summer and carnival. But Burlamacco is not alone: since the first poster, he has been represented with Ondina, a typical bather from the ’30s, highlighting once again the city’s special connection with the sea.

Did you know that carnival lasts longer in Milan? Read our article to find out why

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