Image via Wikipedia
Acireale, a city of about 50 thousand, is about fifty miles (eighty kilometers) north of Siracusa on the eastern coastline facing the Ionian Sea. This coast is called the Riviera dei Cilopi; according to Homer's Odyssey it was created when the blinded Cyclops Polyphemus flung boulders at the retreating Ulysses, creating spectacular rock pillars known as faraglioni. This great site hosts what is widely regarded as Sicily's finest Carnevale, one of the few that can compete with Venice's world-class offering.
Carnivale is thought to originate in the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia, honoring the god Saturn in the hope of a rich harvest. Masked revelers, often drunk, feasted, partied, and paraded with allegorical floats through the town. Similar festivals were held in ancient Greece in honor of Dionysus, the god of wine. However, the word Carnevale itself apparently comes from Carnem levare, which means take away the meat, referring to the 40 days of Lent in which the faithful would eat no meat.
Allegorical floats have been a major component of Carnevale for several hundred years. They first appeared in Sicily more than four hundred years ago. But they only came to Acireale around 1880. And this Carnevale has been making up for lost time ever since. As in so many Carnevales, papier mache is a major component of the floats. Satirical masks are a major feature. Even if you can't tell who is being mocked out, you will really enjoy them. Of course, in many cases you won't have any trouble identifying the "victim". Talking about victims, Carnevale onlookers were taditionnally pelted with eggs and other projectiles. Today they are more often hit with confetti or sprayed with aerosols.
In 2011 the Acireale Carnevale will start on Saturday, February 19 and run until Tuesday, March 8, Mardi Gras. There are many childrens's events such as Bambini in Maschera, a children's costume competition. The initial events are held on the weekends only but starting on Thursday, March 3 there is at least one daytime and one evening event daily. After an awards ceremony Carnevale terminates with fireworks and the burning of King Carnival.
Acireale is not the only city in Sicily to host Carnevale. Other manifestations occur in Palermo, the coastal capital situated on the northern coast whose Carnevale introduced papier maché floats to Sicily in the town of Sciacca on the southwestern coast whose Carnevale is known for its bizarre floats, in Termini Imerese on the northern coast, and in Palazzolo Acreide west of Siracusa. Why not visit several and compare?
Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten computer and Internet books, but prefers drinking fine French wine with the right foods. He teaches computers at an Ontario French-language community college. Visit his Italian travel website www.travelitalytravel.com and his global wine website www.theworldwidewine.com with a weekly column reviewing $10 wines and new sections writing about and tasting organic and kosher wines.