Brazil’s Rio Carnival is a festival that is held every year before Lent. It is considered the biggest carnival in the world, with two million people per day on the streets. The first Rio Carnival occurred in 1723. With the celebrations taking place recently, here’s looking at some of the biggest carnivals held across the world.
Carnival of Venice
The Carnival of Venice (aka Carnevale di Venezia in Italian) is an annual festival held in Venice, Italy. The festival is famous for its elaborate costumes and masks. According to legend, the Carnival of Venice began after the military victory of the Venetian Republic over the Patriarch of Aquileia, Ulrico di Treven, in 1162. However, under the rule of the Holy Roman Emperor and later Emperor of Austria, Francis II, the festival was outlawed entirely in 1797 and the use of masks became strictly forbidden. After a long absence, the carnival returned in 1979. The Italian government decided to bring back the history and culture of Venice and sought to use the traditional carnival as the centrepiece of its efforts. Since then, approximately 3 million visitors have been coming to Venice every year for the carnival.
Bahian Carnival (Carnaval baiano in Portuguese) is the annual carnival festival celebrated in the Brazilian state of Bahia, mainly in its capital, Salvador. In this energetic city, traditions — culinary, musical, literary and more — reflect a deep Afro-Brazilian heritage. The event lasts officially for six full days: it starts on a Thursday, then follows the usual five days of carnival (from Friday to Wednesday at noon). The festival happens simultaneously in many sites, the most famous being the Campo Grande track (in the upper part of the city), Barra-Ondina track (by the shore), and Pelourinho (the historical neighbourhood). It features many different rhythms and has performances of several music groups. The most traditional presentations are the trio elétrico parades, and Afro blocks presentations. Estimations state that over 2.5 million people (being 1.5 million tourists) participate in the festivities.
Carnival of Basel
The Carnival of Basel (aka Basler Fasnacht in German) is the biggest carnival in Switzerland and takes place annually between February and March in Basel. It has been listed as one of the top 50 local festivities in Europe. Since 2017, the Carnival of Basel has been included in UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage. The carnival lasts for exactly 72 hours. During this time the Fasnächtler (the participants) dominated the old town of central Basel, running free in the streets and restaurants. Basler Fasnacht is often referred to as die drey scheenschte Dääg (“the three most beautiful days”).
Carnival of Barranquilla
The Carnival of Barranquilla (Carnaval de Barranquilla in Spanish) is one of Colombia’s most important folkloric celebrations, and one of the biggest carnivals in the world. The carnival has traditions that date back to the 19th century. Four days before Lent, Barranquilla decks itself out to receive national and foreign tourists to join together with the city’s inhabitants to enjoy four days of intense festivities. During the carnival, Barranquilla’s normal activities are put aside as the city gets busy with street dances, musical and masquerade parades. The Carnival of Barranquilla includes dances such as the Spanish paloteo, African Congo, and many styles of Colombian music are also performed, most prominently cumbia, and instruments include drums and wind ensembles. The Carnival of Barranquilla was proclaimed a Cultural Masterpiece of the Nation by Colombia’s National Congress
Carnival of Binche
The Carnival of Binche (Carnaval de Binche in French) is an annual event in the Belgian town of Binche. The carnival is the best known of several that take place in Wallonia, Belgium, at the same time. Its history dates back to approximately the 14th century, and since 2003, it is recognised as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Events related to the carnival begin up to seven weeks prior to the primary celebrations. Street performances and public displays traditionally occur on the Sundays approaching Ash Wednesday, consisting of prescribed musical acts, dancing, and marching.
Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife
The Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife (Carnaval de Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spanish) is held each February in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the capital of the largest island of the Canary Islands, Spain and attracts people from all over the world. It is considered the second most important and internationally known carnival, after the one held in Rio de Janeiro. Partially for this reason, the city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is twinned with the city of Rio de Janeiro. The Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife aspires to become a World Heritage Site, as a declaration of its status as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO would promote the festival internationally.