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Viareggio Carnival and its grand floats are back in town!

Posted by GLflorence on February 4, 2020


If winter makes you moody and melancholic, you can cheer up thinking that the cold weather brings Mardi Gras fritters, donuts, floats and funny masks… It’s Carnival time! Italians love Carnival, and in some cities this event has become a famous one! Think about Venice: its masks are well-known and renowned all around the world. Tuscany has its own traditions too, the most famous being held in Viareggio, a city on the coast. Here’s the story of this amazing and traditional Carnival.  

The origins 

Viareggio Carnival was born in 1873. It was first reserved to the elite group, being celebrated in Puccini theatre and Regio Casinò, which were the places where Viareggio's rich youth met to party and have fun. It was, indeed, some young folks idea to organize a float along the city centre streets. The first parades saw some carriages full of flowers parading down Via Regia the 24th of February, 1873, on Shrove Tuesday. Ten years later the carriages were substituted by some huge floats made with wood and burlap, created by some local artisans and workers. Another great evolution occurred during the XX century, when the parade was moved to the promenade to enhance its importance and beauty.

1921 was also an important year for Viareggio, because a promotional campaign started to create more interest in the Carnival: the “Coppa di Champagne” hymn and the realization of “Viareggio in Maschera” official magazine gave to this event a new importance and notice. 1925 was an even more important year, because it changed the Carnival into the one we know today. During this period, indeed, paper casts started to be used for the floats, which began to be realized with papier-mâché. This material was light but extremely flexible, which gave the possibility to build bigger and more complex floats over time. 


The papier-mâché technique  

Lucca and Pescia are well-known for paper production, which is fundamental for Viareggio. Therefore, you have to know that to realize those grand floats that everybody wants to admire every year, tons of paper, water and flour are needed. The creation of papier-mâché is an ancient technique, whose secrets are passed from one generation of artisans to another. A whole neighborhood is involved in this incredible work: Cittadella degli artisti is a tiny district of the city where you can admire locals working on the next year float. They are able to create impressive masks that criticize and make fun of difficult social, economic and political situations. The floats can be higher than 20 metres and can be considered real masterpieces. If you want to visit this amazing place, you can contact our tailor-made section and experience Italian authentic Carnival with a local expert Guide! 


Tuscan masks 

Viareggio most famous mask is Burlamacco, which has become the symbol of the Carnival too. Invented in 1930 by the painter Uberto Bonetti, who wanted to represent the two most important elements of the city: summer and the Carnival. His clothing are indeed red and white, the same colour of the beach umbrellas, and are a mixture of different Carnival characters clothes. He reminds of Arlecchino in his rhomboid dress, but he also has a pompom taken from Pierrot. His hat is similar to Rugantino’s one and his cloak is the same as Balanzone’s. The name Burlamacco comes from a Florentine painter, Buffalmacco, who was mentioned by Boccaccio in his Decameron. The name shifted from “Buffa” to “Burla” to remind a typical Lucca’s surname and the name of a pier canal. He’s usually accompanied by a young girl named Ondina (small wave) wearing a swimming suit, who’s the symbol of summer. 


Florence has its own mask too! He's called Stenterello (“che pare cresciuto a stento”, which refers to a guy that looks like he was grown struggling), a name given by Florentine citizens after watching the first shows. His jokes are cutting but never gross, he’s generous and always with a ready answer in his pocket. His creator is the Florentine actor Luigi del Buono, author of funny local comedies. who invented this charachter in 1700. Legend says that he took inspiration from a clochard he used to see in Via della Scala. Moreover, his expressions are said to be taken from his barber assistant. If you take a walk around Florence, you’ll see a plaque in Via Borgo Ognissanti n. 4, which remembers the birth of this mask: "in this palace the Borgoggnissanti Theatre took place in 1778, where Luigi del Buono (1751 - 1832) created Stenterello mask, a popular funny Florentine character, sent up and sharp figure who’s remained in citizens memory”. Stenterello doesn’t shine in sturdiness, but he’s very smart and always face the problems with a positive attitude. His coloured clothes are always messy and he’s famous for being always penniless. 


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