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It may surprise you to learn that the Florence Carnevale is by no means the most important one in Tuscany. But it is a good place to start. Sunday is really the best day to enjoy the activities. You'll find floats departing from Piazza Dante and multigenerational parades in the major squares and along the Lungarno Vespucci. One of the biggest events is the "Florence Carnival in the world" parade from Piazza Ognissanti to Piazza della Signoria that features floats coming from three dozen countries in five continents.
The walled town of Foiano della Chiana in eastern Tuscany claims to hold the oldest carnival in Italy. It dates back to 1539. As is so frequently the case, this Carnevale requires almost a year to prepare. In the good old days participants threw chestnuts and salt cod to the eager spectators who lined the parade route. History does not record when this largess ceased. The town's four districts complete for the best float, many that feature (or should we say mock out?) well-known personalities. The main square hosts a public reading of the previous year's major events. Then an effigy of Giocondo, King of the Carnival, is burned in the guise of purifying the local population. In contrast the city of Lucca near the Tuscan Riviera is a recent entry in the Carnevale business. Their event includes shows, concerts, and parties in beautiful palaces and villas. Lucca also hosts Italy's largest festival devoted to comic books but that's in November.
Arezzo, a largely medieval hilltop city of about one hundred thousand in eastern Tuscany hosts the "Carnevale dell'Orciolaia," whose centerpiece is a parade with floats through this lovely city. You need not be Italian to recognize some of the most popular floats.
Tuscany's most famous and unusual carnival is held in Viareggio, an elegant Riviera resort about 60 miles (100 kilometers) west of Florence. This Carnevale is considered among Italy's very best. It started back in 1873 and the locals have never missed a celebration except during the two World Wars. Blacksmiths and carpenters employed by the local shipyards proudly create memorable floats. Some of these take months and months to build and can house an unbelievable 200 people. These floats are often satirical and treat a wide range of Italian and international and celebrities. Given the time and effort involved in creating these world-class floats, don't be surprised that there is an admission fee.
Levi Reiss authored or co-authored ten computer and Internet books, but would rather drink fine French, German, or other wine, paired with the right foods. He loves teaching computer classes at an Ontario French-language community college. Visit his Italian travel, wine, and food website www.travelitalytravel.com and his wine, diet, health, and nutrition website www.wineinyourdiet.com.