Today is Carnival, also known as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras. Carnival dates back to medieval times and is a time for Catholics of the world to let loose a little bit before the self-denial of Lent.
Starting in the 13th Century in Venice however, Carnival tended to get a little out of hand. Usual Carnival merry-making, which consisted of elaborate feasting and masquerade balls, entertainment in the piazza with jugglers and acrobats, and a traveling show of exotic birds and animals.
The donning of masks was what really fueled the activities, which the Pope would describe as "hedonistic." Behind the mask, noblemen and women and public officials could freely mingle with the crowds and get up to all sorts of naughty business free from consequences.
The anonymity also meant that religious figures could be freely poked fun at along with public officials or virtually anyone else. Many Carnival-goes dress as bishops or other religious figures.
Popes Clement IX and XI and Benedict XIII, and even Napoleon among others, tried to ban the festivities of Carnival many times but they were never quite successful, as you can't keep the rich man down...
Over time masks and costumes became even more elaborate and evolved into the full-coverage costumes that are still seen today in Venice. If you can ever make the trip over, it's well worth the journey! Here are some pictures from last years Carnival in Venice, enjoy!