Carnevale di Viareggio – Carnival in Viareggio
Carnival has different traditions in every city in Italy. In some cities it is Martedi Grasso (Fat Tuesday) while in other cities it is Giovedi Grasso (Fat Thursday) and Milan has its own tradition that extends one day beyond all others. It is said that the Milanese are so boring all year long that they need an extra day to celebrate.
Viareggio is a beautiful seaside city in Tuscany. The climate is mild and it is a great vacation place. The tradition of Carnival in Viareggio is recent, 1873, yet has become one of the most well known celebrations of Carnival in Italy. In the early 1800s Viareggio, a town of 11,000 people, was declared a town of the “United Italy”, freeing it from the rule of Massarosa. To celebrate this new freedom, one day a year on Fat Tuesday, the cities gaming houses were opened up to the locals for festivities in costume.
A group of young nobles were not entirely enthusiastic about the parties with their parents in the casino thus took their carts, filled them with flowers and, together with other youth in costume, paraded around the town. A local newspaper, “Gazzetta del popolo” or “News of the People”, published this innovative idea. Within a few years Carnival in the streets had taken over and parties sprung up across the city. The parades continued until WWII.
Viareggio was occupied by the German army and suffered 56 aerial bombardments. In 1945 the city leaders decided that the rebirth of the Carnival, the masks, and its parades were important to the city’s future. They created a committee to organize the rebirth of the tradition. Within a few years the parades were back in full force.
In 1968, a period of extreme political activism in Italy, the costumes and floats began with a theme of political satire. The popularity of the parades spread throughout Italy and an annual national lottery (worth 5 million Euro) was tied to the Carnival of Viareggio. This event is combined with television shows during the entire month before Fat Tuesday, numerous celebrities participating in the parade, and what was once a one day party now lasts for 5 days. Each day has a different theme and you can find just about any type of after parade party that you might desire.
This is not the “Carnivale of Rio” but is just as exciting and folkloristic, definitely worth a trip. Remember Viareggio is part of Tuscany so the food is marvelous and the wine even better.