The origins of carnival
The fact that carnival has pagan origin is revealed by the affinity with the Roman Saturnali, during which it was allowed to infringe some rules: slaves could temporarily feel free to dress up as their masters and people of any class was allowed to sit at banquets. The festival was then adopted, with few variations, by the Christian world. This is testified by the name which derives from “carni vale” (farewell to meat), in reference to the fact that it was celebrated on the eve of Lent.
So carnival as a synonym for disorder and disobedience, of unbridled fun, but everything well codified and regulated; as said by a Latin proverb, fun was granted but only for a limited period. A short period of time during which almost everything was allowed: “A carnevale ogni scherzo vale!” During carnival every joke is allowed!" And there comes the use of masks or disguise so that whoever goes out of the rules can do so with impunity and without the risk of being recognized.
In the past carnival was also the time when the rigid family ties were more easily loosened and some sentimental freedom was granted, well aware that it was a transgression of short duration: “L’amore di carnevale muore a Quaresima” “Love during carnival dies during Lent”.
The Carnival of Foiano della Chiana
In the modern world even the Carnival, like many other events that should gladden our lives, has become one of the many commercial initiatives. Fortunately in Tuscany it survives, especially in small towns, still unchanged and not dominated by money rules.
One of these is the Carnival of Foiano della Chiana. This is a festival born perhaps spontaneously, in the second half of the 20th Century, with the formation of parades of carriages on Fat Tuesday, in the streets of the town.
After a few years have appeared some decorated floats - then called “mad floats”- on which masked people used to climb and, from their self-propelled positions, enjoyed throwing corn and lupins to people who attended the parade down the street.
Currently the show is more or less the same, with the addition that even viewers throw oranges and vegetables (perhaps slightly past) to counterattack the masked people on the floats.
After the exhilarating battle, it is time for the “Funeral of King Giocondo”, a puppet four meters high - a mere personalization of the Carnival - that is accompanied to the main square and burned in a large pyre.
Carnival of Viareggio
In the 12th Century Viareggio was made of few houses and a watchtower, until the early decades of the 19th Century, when its massive urban development began and it became one of the most popular seaside destinations of Tuscany. Viareggio was before then an anonymous location populated by fishermen in perpetual struggle with malaria, until the land was finally reclaimed.
After the reclamation of land, almost as magical touch, it showed all those qualities that make the Versilia one of the most attractive coastlines: healthy air, unpolluted sea, a wide beach, two pine forests that make the town cooler.
It was all a flourish of villas, pretentious buildings, hotels, inns; the majestic street called Via Regia was revalued and has, by extension, named the location.
Precisely in that historical period - the second half of the nineteenth century - a group of young viareggini began to meditate on what steps to take to make the town attractive even in winter times. Thus were born the parades of allegorical floats.
The documents also indicate the year of the first parade: 1873. From the first rough and naive wooden carts with strange symbolic figures, to the papier-mache’ made ones with mythological character, to the today’s giant floats with sarcastic figures referred to the facts of the current year.
But what characterizes most of the winter parades along the promenade, is the active participation of the child population. If at first the children are happy to observe the passage of floats, climbing on the shoulders of a parent, with the time they turn into protagonists of the feast, with memorable battles with shots of stars, confetti sweets, plastic hammers or pistols loaded with water.
And the joy of children is transmitted quickly to parents, happy and proud to attend the heroic deeds of their children engaged in these daring “assaults” with other children.
Where: various towns: Viareggio, Foiano della Chiana, Arezzo, Castiglion Fibocchi and many others
When: on the carnival Sundays - See calendar here
Admission: ticket on most of them, some have free entrance