When the Carnivale di Viareggio began, there was a modest parade of festively decorated carriages in the heart of the old beach side resort town. The carnival's roots go back to 1873 when the bourgious of the town were protesting high taxes. They decorated carriages in a mocking fashion to poke fun of politicians in power. At the beginning of the 20th century, the parade moved to the wide Promenade where its popularity as well as the festive floats continued to grow, until today the displays are gigantic in size--some over 60 feet tall!
In 1954 the infant RAI TV broadcast the first ever live scenes of the carnival and in 1958 the event was covered throughout Europe on the Eurovision network. Due to their popularity and the floats growing dimensions, huge aircraft style hangers were built to store and construct them on Via Marco Polo.
The Carnival in days past
In 2001 the new, 800 foot long, elliptically shaped Cittadella del Carnevale was opened, an extraordinary architectural complex entirely dedicated to the creation and preservation of the Carnival of Viareggio. It's "Hangers" (still the term used) are immense, and while each bay's door is about 45 feet tall, the finished floats can be even taller--up to 60 feet--with their top parts being added by dedicated cranes after they are rolled out of their hangers.
Today the Viareggio Carnival claims to be the largest Italian folk event with a budget of € 5 million per year. The "Hanger" itself is also used for concerts and other public events throughout the summer.
Every year during the Mardi Gras season, the Carnival of Viareggio is live on national television (RAI 3) bringing its color, pageantry and humor to millions. Many famous celebrities, sports figures and even politicians come to Viareggio to admire their cartapesta (papier mâché) effigies, some poking polite fun, others with more blatant political or social commentary. The Carnival lasts for an entire month's worth of both daytime and nighttime festivities with parades of allegorical floats, local parties, masked balls and festivals. The sociopolitical commentary and satire is obvious (and sometimes shocking) in the design of many floats.
The main ingredient of the flats are characters--animals, people, monsters and characters from the likes of Swift, Andersen, the Brothers Grimm, Disney or even from popular films and graphic novels (comic books). The floats are usually accompanied by dozens of dancers and singers, and believe it or now, these huge creations are animated! (The videos below are worth watching... Cast or Stream onto your smart TV to watch the entire parade).
Viareggio is on the northern coast of Tuscany, about 12 miles north of Pisa and would be a wonderful way to spend the Mardi Gras season in Italy.
Carnivale di Viareggio website.