In the Ambrosian rite, which is followed in the Archdiocese of Milan and in some neighboring dioceses, Lent begins with the first Sunday of Lent, therefore the last day of Carnival is on Saturday, four days later than the Mardi Gras in other areas of Italy.
Pieter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), Bacchanal auf Andros (1635), from a drawing by Titian, Nationalmuseum är Sveriges, Stockholm
Carnival in antiquity
In Babylon, shortly after the vernal equinox the process of the foundation of the cosmos was re-enacted, described with the myth of the struggle of Marduk, the savior-god with Tiamat the dragon, which ended with the victory of the former. During these ceremonies a procession was held in which the forces of chaos were allegorically represented fighting the recreation of the universe, that is the myth of the death and resurrection of Marduk, the savior. In the parade there was a ship on wheels where the deities Moon and Sun were carried along a large avenue - a symbol of the Zodiac - to the sanctuary of Babylon, symbol of the earth. This period was accompanied by an unbridled freedom and a reversal of social order and morality.
In the Roman world the feast in honor of the Egyptian goddess Isis involved the presence of masked groups, as told by Lucius Apuleius in the Metamorphoses (Book XI). Among the Romans the end of the old year was represented by a man covered with goat skins, carried in procession, hit with sticks and called Mamurius Veturius.
Carnival is therefore a moment in a mythic cycle, it is the movement of spirits between heaven, earth and the underworld. In the spring, when the earth begins to show its power, Carnival opens a passage between the earth and the underworld, whose souls must be honored and for a short period the living lend them their bodies wearing masks. Masks therefore have often an apotropaic meaning, as the wearer takes on the features of the spirit represented.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Medici in Florence organized large masked carts called "Trionfi" accompanied by carnival songs and dances one, the "Trionfo di Bacco e Arianna" also written by Lorenzo the Magnificent. In Rome under the Popes horse races took place and a called the "race of moccoletti" where runners bearing lit candles tried to blow out each other's candles.
Mask of Su Battiledhu
Carnivals in Italy
- in Basilicata, at Satriano di Lucania and Tricarico
- in Calabria at Castrovillari
- in Lombardy at Castel Goffredo, called "Reggia del Re Gnocco"
- in the Marches, the Fano Carnival, the oldest after that of Venice
- the Carnival of Ivrea in Piedmont, famous for its traditional "Battle of the Oranges"
- in Sardinia, at Tempio Pausania
- in Puglia at Manfredonia, known for the "Sfilata delle meraviglie" and at Putignano, the oldest and most important in the region
- in Sicily: at Sciacca and Acireale, the most ancient in Sicily
- in Tuscany, the Viareggio Carnival with the biggest, most lively floats in the world
- the Carnival of Venice, the most important in Italy