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Type ‘Sicily Carnival’ into a search engine and you’ll find websites about Acireale, a coastal town in Catania, which sits at the foot of Mount Etna. Why? Because when carnival season rolls round, it’s the island’s most famous destination – and not only for locals, but tourists around the world. While this northeastern town is usually known for its basilicas and cathedrals, art and paintings, it is regarded as host to Italy’s most amazing celebration in spring, complete with float-filled parades and costume-clad partygoers. And it’s been going since the 16th century.
Fancy getting your gladrags on, too? The main event takes place from mid-February to early March, with major celebrations and parades reserved for the weekend. Well, even Sicilians have to work! Think big, brash and absolutely hilarious.
Here’s all you need to know about Sicily Carnival.
Sicily Carnival: everything you need to know
Sicily Carnival: history
The traditions that make up the Acireale Carnival are many, though thankfully rotten eggs were banned some time ago… Events like this probably hark back to Roman Baccanali, when townspeople would yell, sing and dress up in weird costumes – well, what do you expect? They were drunk! As time went on things grew a little less furious: more friendly poets, or ‘abbatazzi’, would improvise songs on the streets; and in the 1900s, ‘cassariata’ (horse-led carriages) were topped by nobles who’d shower spectators – no, not in smelly eggs – but confetti and sweets.
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Sicily Carnival: floats
Sicily Carnival had its first float back in 1601, but it wasn’t papier-mâché, and it belonged to Palermo (hiss!). Although the tradition of making floats this way dates back to the 17th century, it was widely used for building icons in Acireale – and let’s face it: that’s a little different to artworks that take the mickey out of local celebs. It took until the 19th century, and a certain Sebastiano Longo, for something like today’s floats to appear.
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Sicily Carnival: parade
Today, the biggest draw of the Acireale Carnival is obviously its amazing parade, full to bursting with the outrageous and colourful floats you see here. Leaving from Piazza Duomo, the orange and lemon-scented procession (local fruits are often used in the making of them), is a platform for allegory and poking fun, so expect to hear giggles. You might not know who all the figures are (though Alice in Wonderland’s made the odd appearance) but hey – it’s as much about the spectacle as anything else.
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Sicily Carnival: taking part
You know those rotten eggs I mentioned? Yeah, don’t worry about those guys. Today it’s all about confetti and foam, the former often made from the morning’s newspaper. And as for the rest? Just stand by and admire – there are concerts, marching bands and at the end of the event, an award ceremony. Prizes are given out to the best artisans in each category, and for floats of a satirical nature, of course, the winners are those who’ve created the most artful slagging-off. You’d think the best-known celebrities, politicians and well-known figures in the country’d be shaking in their boots!
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Sicily Carnival: Acireale
Acireale’s own history goes way back to the 8th century BC, so you’ll be able to spot everything from Roman, Greek and Byzantine remains, to beautiful Baroque architecture. As for activities, you’ve got the Ionian Sea one side, Mount Etna on the other, and the larger city of Catania just three miles away. And, when it comes to eating, there are cannoli – oh cannoli. Just reading the name puts on 100 calories. A crispy, tasty, pastry shell stuffed with sweet ricotta, pistachios and dried fruit, who wouldn’t want to eat more than one?
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Images 3 and 4 by Leandro Neumann Ciuffo
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in the heart of Balestrate