The Carnival of Acireale is an ancient festival that allowed poor people to forget their troubles and poke fun at the most powerful authorities of the city.
The Carnival of Acireale is most beautiful and outrageous in Sicily.
Happily mocking the clergy (with “Abbatazzu” masks) and the aristocracy (the “Baruni” masks ) goes back to the 17th century. Now celebrities and public figures are up for grabs in a vivid satirical free-for-all.
In the original festival, drunk painted citizens dueled by throwing rotten eggs and citrus fruits at each other. To public disappointment, the Criminal Court banned the practice in 1612 because of property and human damage.
At the start of the 1700s, the Carnival took on a more refined tone thanks to the “abbatazzi” or folk poets that improvised rhymes on the streets of Acireale.
The “cassariata” added a touch of (upper) class in the 19th century. These were distinguished, horse-led carriages from which nobles launched sprays of candy and confetti at spectators.
The ordinary people, meanwhile, played bizarre street games like the greasy pole, tug of war and sack race.
Only in the 1930s did we start seeing papier-mache, along with floats led by oxen and escorted by satirical, clowning characters.
Competition is fierce as prizes are awarded to the best floats in each category.
Floats are decorated with cascades of flowers and embellished by wonderful lighting systems – which is why night parades are the most popular.
It’s worth seeing the miniaturized floats. These are actual works of art representing the small-size version of the papier-mâché ones.
The ending of the Carnival of Acireale is unchanged for centuries – the burning at stake of “Re Carnevale” (King Carnival). Though jaw-dropping fireworks have been addded.
The Carnival of Acireale is so fantastic that it happens again in August. Taking advantage of the beautiful summer nights, the City puts on the Parade of the Grotesque Floats.
Siobhan is a freelance writer, research addict and lover of twisted history. If you like horrible but amazing history, check out her website www.interesly.com or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/interesly. Or you can reach her through www.siobhanoshea.com.