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The masked magic of Venice Carnival

The beautiful 'floating city' may be known as 'La Serenissima', but there's one time of year when Venice loses her serenity in an all-out celebration of finery and fun. You may find fewer feathers at the Venice Carnival than in Rio, but the colourful costumes are the epitome of elegance.

The European city that we all associate with carnival has to be Venice, where the festival is brought to life with a spirit unique to this romantic city with its watery filigree of canals. And it's not surprising, as carnival tradition in Venice dates back nearly a thousand years. The Venice Carnival 2011, which aims to pay homage to two themes: the unification of Italy and women, has taken the slogan da Senso a Sissi, la citta delle donne – 'from Senso to Sissi, the city of women' – in reference to Visconti's 1954 film Senso, and to Princess Sissi, the nineteenth-century icon of fashion and elegance. From February 26th to March 8th, the whole city will be transformed into a magical world of colour, sensuality and mystery.

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Venice carnival, 2011
For the ten day celebrations, many residents and visitors alike will don fabulous eighteenth-century costumes perfectly in keeping with the beautiful Venetian architecture 

Venice carnival, 2011
An early-morning mist over the canal can only enhance the enigmatic atmosphere created by the masked revellers 

Venice carnival, 2011
The first references to the Venice Carnival appear in the eleventh century, but the thoroughly pagan festival really started gaining popularity in the fourteenth century. 

Venice carnival costumes
The true stars of the celebrations are the gorgeous costumes and masks so typical of Venice 

Venice carnival costumes
Old and young alike enjoy the celebrations in the 'floating city', whose carnival is one of the most important in the world 

Venice carnival costumes
Not all the costumes are precisely beautiful, but they are renowned for their theatricality and fantasy 

Venice carnival costumes
Many of the costumes are true works of art – and many are handmad 

Venice carnival costumes
Who knows who – or what – is hidden behind the iconic mask of the Venetian Carnival? 

Venice carnival costumes
This year, the carnival celebrates Venice as la citta delle donne – 'the city of women' 

Venice carnival
A world away from the sambas of Rio, the last Saturday of the Venice Carnival sees a spectacular torchlight 'parade' of gondolas along the Grand Canal 


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