Get Masked in Venice

By: Andrew Regan

Visitors to Venice are drawn to this city of canals to see the many sights, get a glimpse of the past glory of Venice and have a chance to experience the grandeur and decadence of the culture that once existed there. Navigating the maze-like configuration of streets, people watching in the piazza and taking a ride in a gondola down one of the canals are all things that should be experienced there; and intended or not, many tourists are likely to purchase a mask made in Venice.

Setting itself apart for the better part of a century, those who resided in Venice enjoyed the benefits of being citizens of a republic, and all of the benefits that came with that privilege. At this same period other European countries were living through what is now known as the dark ages, while the Venetians were living in a state of extravagance and many were enjoying lives of great wealth. During this time the wearing of masks became commonplace in everyday life and it was not uncommon to see people walking the streets in disguises in order to hide their identities.

From the wealthy to the poor, along with all society-classes in between, everyone wore masks which provided protection of their identity while at the same time keeping citizens on an equal playing field, as onlookers could only guess of their social ranking. The ability to go out in public while knowing that your identity was hidden created a confidence in people which led many to take advantage of the situation.

Decadence and indulgence grew and activity considered sinful by the Vatican became commonplace; hidden only by masks. Sexual promiscuity, gambling at all hours, engaging in homosexual acts; behaviours that were publicly condemned were all routinely engaged in. Monks and nuns even embraced the masks and joined the rest of the population, enjoying the anonymity they provided. The huge number of travellers to Venice only increased the resident's debaucherous behaviour while the Republic did little to stop its citizens.

Eventually the Republic cracked down on mask wearing, at first only partial bans took place but then led to being banned altogether with the exception of being permitted to wear them at certain times of the year. Now for visitors to see the populace decked out in fanciful masks, the time to go is during Carnevale, known in other parts of the world as Mardi Gras.

Hotels in Venice are hard to come by during Carnevale, so if you plan on visiting during the festival book early. A year in advance is not too extreme in planning ahead. The months of July and August can also be quite busy which is why many travel experts advise to travel to Venice in the off-season.

It is still popular to get a mask custom made in Venice the old fashioned way. A mould is made so the mask fits perfectly to your proportions and in some cases the artisan can work with you to see what you would like as embellishments. A custom-made mask is a much more personalised souvenir, and not only will you leave with a work of art, but will also have memories of the experience.

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