Il Bacanal, the Carnival of Verona, is one of the oldest street parades in Italy.
The origins of Verona's Carnival
Its origins are said to date back to the dark days of the middle ages, when Verona was a city ravaged by war, flooding, disease and famine.
During these desperate times, with grain prices rising, the cities poor, especially those crowded into the historic San Zeno neighbourhood, faced poverty, famine and starvation.
On 18 June 1531, in the Piazza of San Zeno, the people rose and demanded to be fed. A general revolt was only averted thanks to the intervention of some prominent local citizens, who distributed bread, wine, flour, butter and cheese to the poorest inhabitants of the neighborhood.
Amongst those charitable citizens was one Tommaso Da Vico.
Da Vico was a local doctor. In his will he requested that every year, on the last Friday before Lent, gnocchi and wine be distributed to the poor people of San Zeno.
The Carnival today
Nowadays, on gnocchi Friday, Venerdi' gnocolar' (the last Friday before Lent), a massive parade of over 4000 masked participants and 40 extravagantly decorated floats slowly snakes its way from Corso Porta Nuova to the Piazza of San Zeno.
Traditionally the parade is a celebratory expression of satire, comedy and joy. The parade is led by Papa' de' gnocco, a masked man representing an old king holding, instead of a scepter, a huge fork topped with a giant gnocchi.
Remembering the past
Near the magnificent cathedral of San Zeno there stands a large Roman tomb. This tomb is said to be the resting place of King Pepin, son of Charlemagne (Charles the Great), who died here in 810.
It was from this stone table that Da Vico is said to have served his gnocchi to the poor of San Zeno.
Next to the stone table is a crumbling bust of Tommaso Da Vico, the man whose generous act of charity is still celebrated and remembered here in Verona nearly 500 years later.
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Richard Hough writes about history, football, wine, whisky, culture + travel.