The Venice Carnival unfolds in the weeks leading up to Lent as one of the most fantastical parties on earth. Carnevale di Venezia is a tradition that goes back to the Middle Ages and takes its name from the Latin carnem levare, or, “remove the meat.”
A festival that began as a spontaneous celebration marking a military victory in Piazza San Marco evolved into a way for local people to escape a rigid class system and indulge in lascivious pleasures. In its 18th-century heyday, it enabled commoners to interact with nobility, illicit lovers to meet anonymously, and gamblers to risk their fortunes.
Finally, in 1797, the King of Austria outlawed the festivities. They were officially abandoned until 1980, when the Italian government reinstated the Venice Carnival to promote the culture and history of the Veneto region. Today it continues to blur the boundaries of reality and fantasy with two weeks of revelry, costume parades, masked balls, and uninhibited mingling.