Venice still magical as tourist-free carnival kicks off

Published on : Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Sumptuously-dressed couples promenaded around St Mark’s Square in the swirling fog as Venice kicked off its celebrated carnival this weekend — without the usual crowds of tourists, absent due to the pandemic.

Italy relaxed its coronavirus restrictions on Monday, allowing greater freedoms in most regions.

Venice is among the areas now under a lower-risk “yellow” category — but residents are still not allowed to travel outside the region.

A short walk from St Mark’s Square, Hamid Seddighi, dressed in paint-splattered overalls, was making a carnival mask in his workshop, moulding and smoothing it with delicate precision.His store, Ca’ de Sol, sells masks made from papier mache, lace and iron, bedecked with Swarovski crystals.But his creations have been piling up without takers.

The pandemic has pushed his revenues down 70 percent — mainly due to the lack of foreign tourists, his main clientele.

Pre-pandemic, the carnival brought some 70 million euros ($84 million) to Venice’s coffers, according to City Hall, with more than half a million tourists flooding in.

The local artisans’ association has launched a discount campaign to encourage residents to take part in this year’s festivities in the absence of foreign visitors.

“Venice carnival — masked… and with masks”, runs their slogan, a nod to the ubiquity of face-coverings both festive and protective.

Despite the gloom, the association’s director Gianni De Checchi sees an opportunity for residents to reclaim a city where overtourism has brought with it a slew of negative effects, from pollution to rocketing rents.

“It’s an opportunity for Venetians to reappropriate and rediscover their town,” he said.

“For the past 25 years, mass tourism has unravelled the socio-economic fabric of central Venice. And in a way, it has led the carnival astray.”

Venice authorities were forced to cut short last year’s carnival when the pandemic took hold. This year it is moving some of the celebrations online, with videos showing Venetians in full carnival regalia.The carnival usually contributes about 40 percent of their revenues.

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