The Carnival of Venice was first recorded in 1268. Masks have always been a central feature of the Venetian carnival. Check out the magnificent costumes at this year's Carnival, whose theme is "Golden Passion".
Despite the economic crisis, hundreds of thousands of people flocked to the Italian canal city for more than 10 days of parties that end on Tuesday. Visitors had numerous attractions to choose from including a masked costume contest, street concerts, theater, and acrobatic performances.
While the masses photograph the extraordinary outfits on display, the rich enjoy themselves with lavish parties usually held in palaces along the Grand Canal, Venice's main waterway. Dressed in costumes that easily fetch for more than 1,000 euros ($1,275 US dollars), party dwellers try to recreate the lavish atmosphere of the 1700s. The most exclusive, Ballo del Doge, where tickets cost 1,000 euros each, did not disappoint with 300 guests from various nations including a European Prince. They even had an auction of a Ferrari.
The Venice Carnival began centuries ago as a period of excess before the rigors of Lent, the 40 days of fasting that traditionally precede Easter. Venetians could then hide their identities behind masks and do as they pleased. It's beautiful and spooky all at the same time!