From 4 to 25 February, the goliardic festival which, for 150 years, has been the driving force for the economy of a territory: Maria Lina Marcucci, president of the Carnival of Viareggio, explains its importance for the city, its artisans and young people who aspire to become teachers

Born on February 25, 1873 as a parade of decorated carriages, the Carnival of Viareggio, which this year is 150 years old, is a festival of identity in which mockery, satire, allegory and the desire to escape find form in the creativity of the papier-mâché masters.

A maxi collective event, scheduled this year from February 4th to 25th, which activates the economy of an entire territory, keeps shops and crafts alive that would otherwise become extinct, and carries on ancient techniques and materials, such as tracing paper, commonly called papier-mâché, contaminating it with painting, sculpture, design, robotics, lighting design and new expressive languages.

Maria Lina Marcucci, president of the Viareggio Carnival, explains the importance of this event for the city, its artisans and young people who aspire to become masters.

This year the Carnival of Viareggio celebrates 150 years. What is the significance of Carnival for the city?

Maria Lina Marcucci: “Viareggio and the Carnival are one. The Carnival is an event that is experienced all year round, from the preparations to the construction of the floats, from the comments on the past edition to the hopes of what will be, from the "battle" to be able to enter among the extras selected by the various masters for their works, to the presentation, in the summer, of the sketches of the following year's wagons. Viareggio is soaked in confetti, Carnival has always been in its soul”.

When was the Carnival of Viareggio born and how did it evolve?

Maria Lina Marcucci: “The Carnival of Viareggio was born in 1873 as a pure expression of student spirit. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Carnival in the cities was a celebration of the people, but also of palaces and nobles.

The first parade in Viareggio was not of floats but of carriages decorated with flowers, which this year, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Carnival we will recall in a historic parade.

The buildings have evolved over the decades: from simple decorated carriages we have moved on to large wagons.

At the beginning of the twentieth century the wagons were modeled in plaster, on wooden frames, made in the hangars of the shipyards, by the shipwrights and caulkers, highly skilled naval carpenters of the Darsena, together with local painters, decorators and sculptors.

We had to wait until 1925 to see the floats as we know them today, made of tracing paper, or better known as papier-mâché, a material that allows you to build mammoth but at the same time very light works, with mechanisms in the belly, first manual movements, then automatic.

Viareggio is also famous for its masks: the symbol of our Carnival is Burlamacco, with his black cape and red and white diamond patterned dress, born in 1930 from pencil of the futurist artist and painter Uberto Bonetti, who puts together the elements of the masks of the Commedia dell'arte, takes something from Balanzone, something from Arlecchino, and gives life to a new mask, considered the last of the Commedia dell'arte.

Burlamacco is accompanied by a charming young woman, Ondina, the holiday maker who came to Viareggio to spend the summer months, wearing 1920s-style sailor clothing. From the 1960s to the 1980s, the Carnival of Viareggio became the maximum expression of political satire, and subsequently with globalization the floats began to tell the issues that afflict the world.

Today the Carnival is the result of a strong innovation, both in terms of expression and construction, and at the same time keeps its centuries-old tradition alive".

What are the events not to be missed this year?

Maria Lina Marcucci: "In addition to the parades, with 9 first category floats, 4 of the second category, 9 group masquerades, 10 isolated masks, this year we have organized numerous events to celebrate and the 150th anniversary of the Carnival, such as exhibitions, thematic meetings and conferences, historical re-enactments, concerts and conferences.

Among the exhibitions not to be missed, Che the party will begin... until April 30 at the Modern and Contemporary Art Gallery, with loans from national museums that tell the story of Carnival, not just that of Viareggio, from the eighteenth century to twentieth century; then Costumi Costume, a party in masks in Villa Argentina, an expression of liberty style in Viareggio, with costumes made by the Viareggio tailoring of the brothers Anna and Giorgio White who have worked with the greatest artists, from Zeffirelli to Fellini.

At the Marineria museum, Hands-on tells the relationship between the world of shipyards - because Viareggio has been known for its boats since the eighteenth century - with the Carnival and the construction of carts.

Finally, the CarnevalArt exhibition at Villa Paolina, which sees the works that are part of the Fondazione Carnevale collection on display for the first time".

Why is Carnival important for local shops and artisans?

Maria Lina Marcucci: “The master builders from Viareggio make the papier-mâché giants, the traveling theaters that tell stories: 23 artisan firms, with more than a thousand people at work, often sons of art who inherited the skills and secrets of a unique trade from their fathers and grandfathers.

The crewmen of Viareggio also work during the year for important artists and installations, they have commissions for theaters and major events. We cultivate and hand down the art of the tank driver, and support the new generations of craftsmen, with numerous promotional activities.

For example, during the Carnival there are four parade categories: the first two are represented by the masters, the third and fourth are the stages of approach for young people who aspire to become master craftsmen.

In addition, in Viareggio we have the Accademia della papier-mâché, with courses for all ages, where our teachers teach traditional techniques such as molded paper, but also the most innovative processes and materials, especially in the mechanical and movement part with increasingly surprising effects.

The courses also include notions of marketing and social marketing to give young people the tools to promote themselves and project the Carnival into the future".

What is the impact of Carnival on the Viareggio area?

Maria Lina Marcucci: “Carnival is important because it is the economic engine of the city and of the entire local area.

Over a thousand people work for the artisan workshops which make the floats, and dozens of seamstresses sew the clothes for the approximately 3 thousand participants.

Added to this is tourism promotion, because the Carnival attracts thousands of tourists every year, usually in the low season, for the benefit of hoteliers and restaurateurs. The Carnival industry moves a national level of induced activities of over 200 million euros, with the Carnival of Viareggio which alone generates activities worth 30 million euros”.