M.A. in Political Science, European Union Policy Studies

Carnevale in Tuscany

Carneval Viareggio 2019


By Marisa Lewis 

Walking through the quiet streets of Viareggio, a Tuscan beach town on the Ligurian coast of Italy, I take in the cool salty air, blissfully unaware to the fact that, in only a few short hours, I’ll soon be blown away by the celebration and satirical awesomeness that is Tuscan Carnevale. With origins dating back to the Middle Ages, Carnevale is a Christian festive season that takes place before the start of Lent. The celebration generally begins in February or March, depending on the date on which Easter falls in a given year, and involves parades, parties, and other forms of public celebration. During Carnevale, people often indulge in alcohol, meat, and other foods that are common sacrifices during the period of Lent. While there are many famous Carnival cities across the world, such as New Orleans or Rio de Janeiro, Italy is home to some of the world’s most famous: Venice, Ivrea, Milan, and Viareggio among others.

Carnevale in Viareggio is unlike anything I have ever experienced back home in the United States. The best way I can describe it is a cross between Halloween and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade topped with an Italian twist. The most striking aspects of Carnevale are the costumes everyone wears and the paper mache floats, or carri, that are paraded around the city. The floats are massive, heavily detailed, and absolutely remarkable. Before the start of the parade, everyone is allowed to approach and examine the floats. After seeing these floats up close, it becomes quite clear that each of them required a keen amount of time, effort, and craftsmanship to put together.

Viareggio’s Carnevale celebration is famous for being a bit witty and wry in its expression of current events or societal issues. Each float seeks to tell a story, expresses an emotion, or even exposes humanity for its wrongdoings. Many of the floats include political themes, such as Donald Trump and Brexit, environmental themes such as climate change, and even social themes like the plight of immigrants in the US. Some floats celebrate even further away cultures like those from Mexico and Central America as with the float touting a monstrous Frida Kahlo paper mache statue. Many of the carri take negative aspects of society, some incredibly grimacing, and portray them in an ironic way, seeking levity in its reflection in its commentary.

After a few laps around the parade track I stop for my daily cappuccino and hear music starting to play over several of the loudspeakers spread throughout the area. People who had been hiding inside nearby stores to stay warm on this rainy, chilly day suddenly came rushing towards the center of the festivities. The Carnevale festivities have officially started. As I rush to the first float, I begin to realize that the float itself isn’t the only display. Musical numbers and performers accompany each float in the procession.

Despite being an ocean away, I felt almost at home during my time in Viareggio. I came to Florence to gain an education and to develop a deeper appreciation for other cultures. By immersing myself in daily activities around Florence, I’ve begun to truly see that appreciation grow. However, experiencing Carnevale is a unique twist to that original goal. Although the underlying principle behind the celebration is Italian in nature, there is a homey aspect to it as well. I never would have thought that I would have to travel across an ocean to develop a deeper understanding for issues currently unfolding at home in America. As Carnevale expanded my cultural horizons both here abroad and at home an ocean away, I realize that sometimes you just have to take a step back from the harsh realities of the world and have a laugh.


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Published: Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Last Updated: Saturday, January 2, 2021

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