IN PICS | Venice revellers enjoy last carnival before fee for day-trippers

With its legendary festival now in full swing, Venice is preparing to trial a scheme to limit the growing number of day-trippers

06 February 2024 - 13:17
By Reuters & Elizabeth Sleith
A masked reveller takes part in the Venice carnival in St Mark's Square in Venice, Italy, on February 3, 2024.
Image: REUTERS / Guglielmo Mangiapane A masked reveller takes part in the Venice carnival in St Mark's Square in Venice, Italy, on February 3, 2024.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Venice carnival are enjoying what could be the last year of free access for day-trippers to the historic lagoon city, before a much-debated fee comes into effect to try to curb numbers.

The carnival, which traces its origins back to the Middle Ages, is known for the distinctive traditional masks worn by participants and a host of cultural events in one of Italy's most visited cities.

This year's edition features more than 50 shows between January 27 and February 13. In 2023, the carnival brought in 2-million overnight stays and €3bn (R61bn) in turnover, according to data from Italian artisan association CNA.

Tourists queue to enter St Mark's Basilica during the carnival in Venice, Italy.
Image: REUTERS / Guglielmo Mangiapane Tourists queue to enter St Mark's Basilica during the carnival in Venice, Italy.

Venice, with its picturesque canals and Renaissance sites, has struggled with the effects of mass tourism for years and has introduced a trial scheme that will take effect from April 25 to try to limit the growing number of day-trippers.

“This is the first time I've been here in January and I couldn't believe the crowds, so if they have to start paying then I think that's fair enough,” said Lin Keer from Britain.

Simone Venturini, the city council's tourism chief, said the 29 experimental days chosen for the payment scheme this year would normally be expected to see high tourist volumes.

“This measure will have a dual effect, first communicative, because it will give the world the idea it is not advisable to plan a visit on those days. At the same time, it will give the idea of better organisation of tourist flows,” he said.

Four-thousand visitors have already booked their stay through the official app for the 29 days, he added.

Dating back to the 12th century, the carnival originally served as a period of revelry and indulgence before the start of Lent.
Image: REUTERS / Guglielmo Mangiapane Dating back to the 12th century, the carnival originally served as a period of revelry and indulgence before the start of Lent.
Revellers row during the masquerade parade on the Grand Canal during the Venice Carnival in Venice, Italy, on January 28.
Image: REUTERS / Guglielmo Mangiapane Revellers row during the masquerade parade on the Grand Canal during the Venice Carnival in Venice, Italy, on January 28.

There will be no barriers or turnstiles, but officials will carry out spot checks at entrance points to the islands which comprise the city. Tourists who do not pay the fee of €5 (about R100) will be fined between €50 and €500 (R1,019 and R10,187).

While locals are exempted from the charge, some worry the new rules may complicate things.

“It can be a problem for all those who live just outside Venice and need to come here, maybe to see their parents,” said Filippo, a resident who declined to give his surname.

“Those who live nearby have to book. They don't pay but it's a bit messy,” he added.

ALL ABOUT THE CARNIVAL

The Venice Carnival is celebrated with a variety of events and activities, including costume contests, masquerade balls, parades, street performances and cultural exhibitions.
Image: REUTERS / Guglielmo Mangiapane The Venice Carnival is celebrated with a variety of events and activities, including costume contests, masquerade balls, parades, street performances and cultural exhibitions.

The Venice Carnival, known as Carnevale di Venezia in Italian, is one of the most famous and historically significant carnivals in the world. It typically takes place in the weeks leading up to Lent, a period of fasting and reflection in the Christian calendar. 

Dating back to the 12th century, the carnival originally served as a period of revelry and indulgence before the start of Lent, culminating on Shrove Tuesday (also known as Fat Tuesday or Martedì Grasso), the day before Ash Wednesday.

The carnival was marked by elaborate parties, masked balls, and street celebrations, attracting nobles, merchants, and visitors from across Europe.

A defining feature of the carnival is the elaborate masks worn by participants. Historically, masks allowed people to conceal their identities and social status, enabling them to engage in activities without fear of judgment. Today, masks are a symbol of anonymity and freedom during the festival, with participants donning a variety of intricate and ornate designs.

'Pantegana', the big rat, releases balloons, near the Rialto bridge, on the Grand Canal during the Venice Carnival in Venice, Italy, on January 28 2024.
Image: REUTERS / Guglielmo Mangiapane 'Pantegana', the big rat, releases balloons, near the Rialto bridge, on the Grand Canal during the Venice Carnival in Venice, Italy, on January 28 2024.

The Venice Carnival is celebrated with a variety of events and activities, including costume contests, masquerade balls, parades, street performances, and cultural exhibitions.

One of the most anticipated events is the Flight of the Angel (Volo dell'Angelo), where a costumed performer descends from St Mark's Campanile to the centre of St Mark's Square on a zip line, symbolising the start of the festivities.

Throughout the carnival, the streets are filled with music, dance, and revelry, creating a festive atmosphere that attracts tourists and locals alike. The carnival is not only a celebration of tradition and history but also a vibrant showcase of creativity, artistry, and cultural heritage.

Reuters, additional reporting by Elizabeth Sleith