The history of Carnival in Rome is a long one, rivaling the Venetian Carnival today. Carnival represents the 8-11 days or so leading up to Mardi Gras (Martedì Grasso in Italian, which this year takes place on March 5, 2019) and celebrated with period costumes (children these days dress up as contemporary cultural characters), parties, and sweets. But the history of Carnival in Rome is long and storied until an abrupt end in the 19th century.
During the Middle Ages, the Carnival in Rome was the largest on the planet. The holiday represented a period of time when ordinary citizens, slaves, nobility and the clergy alike could “let loose”, dress up, and party without risk of punishment or ostracization. Festivities included bizzare traditions with animal races, competitions, and tournaments taking place in Rome’s main squares like Piazza Navona, Monte Testaccio, Piazza del Popolo and Piazza Venezia. A famous Berber horse race which turned present day Via del Corso into a high-speed horse race track became the centerpiece of the Carnival in Rome. In 1874 a young boy inopportunely crossed the street during the race and was trampled to death by the speeding horses. King Victor Emmanuel II cancelled the event for good and with it the massive festivities surrounding the holiday died along with it.
Today visitors and locals alike can celebrate Carnival in Rome through a handful of events and parties slated for this year’s celebration.
Still to be confirmed for this year, a horse parade takes place down Via del Corso in Rome. More information on local events and theatrical productions will be found on the Carnevale Romano website.
For an epic party in a historic villa where guests arrive in period costume and dine on traditional Roman recipes, check out La Maschera di Roma. The evening starts at 6:30pm when you arrive at the location, Villa Grant, south of Rome toward the sea. Guests are treated to an aperitivo on the grounds of the villa and then a gala dinner either in the grand dining room or around the indoor pool. Music and dancing follow dinner and continue on into the night.
Carnevale FrascatiCarnevale Frascati Facebook located just outside the municiple border of Rome in the Castelli region celebrates Carnevale from February 23 – March 5, featuring parades, contests and parties the entire week. Visit the page for updates and times.
One sweet tradition which has stood the test of time is the making of Frappe and Castagnoli during the holiday season surrounding Carnival. Both Frappe and Castagnoli are made by frying dough and covering them with sugar. They are staples of the Carnival season, and can be purchased by the kilo at nearly every serious bakery in Italy from the beginning of February. There are plenty of variations available these days (frappe drizzled with chocolate and castagnoli filled with cream or nutella), but the original recipes dictate simply covered in sugar.
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Have you visited Rome during Carnival? Share your experience in the comments below!