The famous annual Venice Carnival is in full swing with revelers parading around the city in beautiful costumes and extraordinary masks. The festival attracts more and more visitors every year. But that also leaves a mark.
Assaulted by 24 million tourists a year, the city of Venice is dealing with mass tourism. The mayor would thus like to introduce a visitor tax, arranging from €2.50 to €10 per person, depending on whether visitors arrive in low or high season. During the carnival, roughly 3 million visitors come into the city to celebrate.
But Italy is not the only country that celebrates carnival.
Filippo Mastroianni is a data journalist, who studied the impact of the carnival on the tourism in the city. Based on a datasource related to the accomodation facilities and the visitors in Venice’s museums, he could conclude that during the carnival, even more people come into the city. “The number of tourists that booked an accomodation during the festivities from 2008 until 2018, grew by 86%. That is a massive growth”, Mastroianni said.
You can imagine that the extra bookings is good for the coffers of the council, but doesn’t the tourism leave a mark on the monuments, or the environment? “This is a problem that we’re facing, but not just during carnival. With the tax that will be introduced next year, we will be able to make sure we can maintain the city”, says Fabrizio D’Oria, director of communication and events of Vela, the public company organizing the carnival.
Tourists for inhabitants
The extra tourists coming in to the city during the festivities, doesn’t always make the locals happy. “They have trouble with the huge amount of people visiting. Consider that AirBnB reports suggests that Venice has 73.8% of tourists for inhabitants. You can say that the city is becoming an open-air museum,” says Mastroianni. “The carnival is used to lure people in to the city, but it is also an ancient tradition, which attracts not just Italians.”
Someone who also saw that fewer and fewer locals were attending the carnival activities is Marco Maccapani, artistic director of the carnival. By using inspirations from the city in the theme of the festivities, he hopes to enthousiast them to attend a masquarade ball. But if you do, you must bring your pot of gold. Iole Vianello works for costume designer Antonia Sautter, who is renowned for her costumes that recreate the elegance of the past ages of Italy’s history. She agrees that you must have heavy money to attend a ball.
Cristina Luciani also works for Antonia Sautter. She has lived in Venice all her life and sees that the carnival isn’t as it used to be. “You can easily notice that the carnival has changed massively throughout the years. There used to be all kinds of activities in the streets. Dance performances, music, theatre. But now it is only celebrated during the weekends, especially for tourists,” she says. “Sure, you can see some people who are all dressed up in stunning dresses and are wearing wigs and masks if you go to the San Marco square, but most of the time these people aren’t even Italian. They’re French.”
Along with the people that dress up at San Marco, tourists like to wear a Venetian mask during their visit. Especially during the carnival, because this ancient festival is world-famous because of them. The earliest written records of Venetian masks dates back to the 13th century, when masks were a big part of the daily life. The rules on how to wear a mask were even written into law. Venetians were allowed to wear masks for over six months, starting on October 5th.
When Napoleon conquered Venice in the 18th century, this culture ended. They thus have a history of more than fivehundred years. That makes that tourists are very interested in the different kind of masks, available for purchase. But with the increase of visitors came more and more low-quality souvenir shops, seducing tourists to buy cheap made products, mostly from China (source: VeneziaAutentica).
Davide Belloni is co-owner of Ca’macana, one of the oldest mask-making stores in town. He notices that 85-90% of the masks in Venice, are actually made somewhere else.
If you want to buy an authentic Venetian masks, these are the things to keep an eye on:
The tourism in the city keeps growing and growing. Events like the carnival and the film festivals attract even more people for a visit to the city of gondola’s. You can even say that it is becoming an open-air museum. Eventhough the mass tourism doesn’t keep locals from celebrating, they are having trouble with the huge amount of people who come to Venice.
The bookings however put money in the bank of the council, who lure people into the city by pretending the carnival lasts two weeks. It turns out there are ‘only’ three weekends in which there are activities. Different than a few years before.
But the three million people who celebrate the carnival leave a mark on the monuments, and also on the environment in the city. By introducing the tourist tax, the city council hopes to preserve the city in the upcoming years.
But one thing is for sure: carnival in Venice, with the masquarade balls, parades and costumes, never gets old.