For Free Family Fun, Carnevale Returns to Rome

Piazza del Popolo at carnival 2010, Rome Carnevale

Ever since a series of accidents forced Rome to relinquish its once-raucous celebrations, Rome's colder and canal-filled sister has had the claim on Carnevale. But in recent years, Rome's been trying to change that.

Back in the day, Rome did Carnival up right. So right that everyone from Dickens to James to Dumas wrote about the festivities. So right that it went (sometimes dangerously) wrong — and, by the early 20th century, the city had put the kibosh on it altogether.

But that's changing. Two years ago, the city threw huge festivities to try to restart the tradition. And, budget problems aside, it's going for it again this year. Like last year, the main events all have pretty horsey themes. (Above: The crowd at Piazza del Popolo during last year's horse show; below: people watching a street performer at the Spanish Steps, also during Carnevale 2010). Crowd watching a street performer at the Spanish Steps, Carnevale 2010, Rome

The festivities (all free!) kick off on February 26, running through March 8. The highlights:

Opening parade. The parade will kick off from Piazza del Popolo at 5:30pm. Look out for dancers, opulently-costumed performers, horses, and military fanfare.

Day of Cowboy Pride. Yes, Americans, you read that right. On Saturday, March 5, from 10am-1pm and 3:30pm-5:30pm, there will be a cowboy-inspired equestrian show.

Italian cavalry show. It's like an equestrian show… only with the pomp and ceremony that can only come from military splendor! Check it out on Friday, March 4 at 7:30pm. Piazza del Popolo.

The BIG horse show. This is the one not to miss (well, if you like horses, or costumes, or acrobatics): On Saturday, March 5 at 7:30pm, some of the biggest names in equestrian sport perform at Piazza del Popolo. Look out for everything from acrobatic vaulting to Renaissance costumes to a dressage champion.

Spanish Steps during Carnevale 2010, Rome Daily street theatre, parades and other performances. Every afternoon until March 3, from 3pm-7pm, the whole Piazza del Popolo neighborhood will explode with fun, family-friendly activities. Look for a myriad of entertainments, including comedies, equestrian shows, and costume parades, at Piazza del Popolo, the Spanish Steps (above: during last year's Carnevale celebrations), Piazza Navona, and along Via del Corso.

Latin American Carnival. Yeah, it's not all about you, Rome. On Sunday, March 6, from 2pm-5:30pm, Latin American dance and music groups take over from Piazza Venezia to the Colosseum.

Via Tiburtina's Great Roman Carnival. Yes, it's a bit farther out — but it's also 1.5km of floats, costumes, dancers and musicians in a massive parade! It's on Sunday, March 6 from 3pm.

Carnival Village. Lots of activities will take place at Piazza del Popolo until the carnival's end. There will be refreshment stands offering food and wine from both Lazio and Tuscany (the home of Rome's "twin" city, Viareggio). And a replica 16th-century theatre will be set up with the help of Rome's Teatro dell'Opera, who will also provide the elaborate costumes.

Exhibit on the rebirth of the Rome carnival. If you're curious about where the carnival tradition came from in Rome — or, more accurately, where it disappeared to — check out the exhibit "Roman Carnival: The Birth of a Tradition," which displays photos and images of Rome's carnivals from the 19th back to the 15th centuries.

Fireworks! Hey, you can't end any celebration without 'em. Check the display out, which takes place above the Pincian hill, on the night of March 8.

 

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