Huge and colourful allegorical floats have finally returned to the famous Viareggio Carnival, a small Tuscan town on Italy's northern Mediterranean coast.
After two years of COVID-19 restrictions, the parade is celebrating its 150th anniversary and the costumes and oversized paper-mâché characters have attracted thousands from near, far and wide.
The incredible masked parades go along the extraordinary Liberty Seaside Boulevard, which transforms into a 2km long circuit during carnival.
The Viareggio Carnival reflects on major topical issues with a large dollop of humour. For example, "the evolution of the species" features a gigantic gorilla, with moving eyes, arms and torso, adorned with military medals on its chest. It has taken pride of place on the streets as a reminder of man's aggressive and domineering nature.
"You become an active carnival participant because carnival is first and foremost the act of taking part, and a popular festival,” says Alessandro Servieri, carnival participant.
“You have to get into the carnival mood by being part of the production, otherwise you're too much on the outside. (You must) enter the carnival fairytale. We are dressed as clowns and we are part of the choreography of Allegrucci's 'A fantastic story' float, which tells the 150-year history of carnival,” adds Servieri.
Long live festival origins going back to 1800's
The festival began in 1873, and is now one of Italy's most popular carnivals, deeply rooted in the traditions of the local people and renowned for its giant floats that deal with contemporary themes.
In “Armed peace” by Alessandro Avanzini, a little girl wearing a helmet and gas mask opens the flag of peace that serves as her cloak and brings back hope.
The carnival is said to have originated as a small but elaborate local act of defiance and mockery towards the nobles of Lucca, a town close to Viareggio, who stayed on the coast during the winter months.
"This is my second carnival, and I'm here to have fun, because this is a time of joy for me, and it also serves to take my mind off problems and everyday life. Like every year, I expect the floats to represent a little bit of what happened during the year, to play it down, or to make people focus and reflect, so it's not just fun,” says Letizia Liguori, carnival attendee.
The first category floats, the largest and most important, are building-sized mobile structures capable of supporting the weight of all the machinery required by the project and the weight of dozens of actors and dancers performing on them.
Becoming a 'viareggino'?
"We are here for two reasons: the first is that this is one of the most beautiful days of this merry and cheerful event, and also because I have recently become a 'viareggino' (inhabitant of Viareggio) and one needs to adopt local traditions.” says Mario Miceli, another carnival attendee.
They are made with traditional crafts such as woodworking, carpentry, mechanical engineering and art. Their creation is a year-round activity and requires full-time commitment, with works competing for the title of best float on the last day of the parade.
The 2023 edition is the first with no limit on the number of attendees since the start of the pandemic. Last year, the carnival was moved from February to September due to a winter-driven COVID-19 wave in Italy. The next and final parade is scheduled for Friday 25 February.