The Magic of the 2024 Viareggio Carnival

A float in the 2024 Viareggio Carnival that is on eye level with the city’s buildings

Thurs. 8 (6 pm), Sun. 11 (3 pm), Thurs. 13 (3 pm), Sun. 18 (3 pm), Sat. 24 (5 pm): VIAREGGIO CARNIVAL.  Viale Mazzini, Viareggio.

Carnival season comes to the seaside town of Viareggio in February hosting the largest festival in Tuscany. Every year thousands of people come to the city to participate in the festivities around Fat Tuesday, Martedì Grasso to Italians. This year many celebrations are organized, including museum exhibits, concerts, children’s activities and neighborhood parties. But the heart of Viareggio Carnival are the parades with their enormous papier mâché constructions often denying the laws of physics. With some being 20 meters (66 feet) high and 12 meters (40 feet) wide, the floats take up the entire seafront promenade.

The history of papier mâché is connected to Viareggio as in 1925 builder and painter Antonio D’Arliano perfected the art of creating larger and lighter weight works with paper and glue. In fact, all the news of the world arrives in Viareggio, with newsprint being used to create the massive floats. Every year hundreds of artists, designers, builders and creative thinkers work all year to produce these ‘traveling theatres’ which amaze and inspire the public. Hundreds of costumed people ride on them, singing, dancing and presenting the theatre on wheels.

The Carnival Museum, housed in the structure called The Cittadella, hosts the airplane sized hangers where the floats are created. Visitors can visit the workshops and learn about the history and construction of the floats called carri in Italian. The museum offers special activities for children.

Viareggio’s Carnival has its own special talisman Burlamacco. The smiling clown, dressed in red and white, a huge black cape billowing behind, has become the symbol of the city’s yearly event and its official mascot.

The floats this year herald a series of warnings. With allegorical and mythological symbols, we are warned of impending environmental destruction, political crises, the ravages of drug use, the insidious power of AI and the increasing indulgence of consumerism over humanism. But despite the doom and gloom predictions of the theme, the atmosphere remains one of revelry and merriment.

The float entitled E’ Tempo di Cambiare, It’s Time to Change, presents a stark environmental warning. A bright red mammoth comes back to life after millions of years of extinction. Finding a polluted planet, wounded by melting glaciers, toxic air and undrinkable water, the message encourages us to love our planet and live in harmony. We are reminded that in our haste to consume more and make more money, we are risking the future of mankind and our planet.

World politics, always satirically mocked during Carnival, comes alive in the float The Nutcracker. The Ukrainian-Russian conflict is recreated into a holiday atmosphere with effigies of Putin and Zelensky escorted by an army of toys. Like every fairy tale, this story needs a happy ending.

Ascolta Ragazzo, la Droga Mai, Listen Son, Never Take Drugs, reflecting a book written in 1978, presents a harsh view of the increasing use of drugs and the even more deadly concoctions in the past 45 years. A deadly white widow attempts to entrap its victim in its claws as the drug trafficking network expands snaring ever younger children in a web of addiction.

The increasing impact of artificial intelligence in our daily lives is portrayed with the float Svegl-IA: Una Storia Semifantastica di IA, Wake Up AI. The display features a person asleep on top of a TV, surrounded by robots and technological devices. Humans by nature are curious, creative and experimental, but the character got lost and discovered he was inundated by tech and the virtual world. What at first seemed creative and the means to make many daily tasks easier, now has put him to sleep and forget his humanness. He’s living in an artificial paradise, cut off from his fellow humans.

Va Dove di Porta il Cuore, Go Where Your Heart Takes You, features a young person on a ship perilously rocking on the waves and surrounded by Greco-Roman mythological creatures called harpies who are often connected to the underworld. The moral emphasized is that sometimes many paths open up and one can’t decide which one to take, but the best solution is to wait silently and listen to your heart. The youth, exhorted to follow the direction his heart advises him to go, hopefully chooses his heart’s guidance.

As the spectators in the stands lining the parade route enjoy the floats, a steady stream of merrymakers passes by in absurd and elegant costumes and intricate masks. One might spy an entire family dressed as zebras, Roman gods, nuns, mythological characters and political personages, all celebrating the Carnival season.

Details are as follows:

Thursday, February 8, the 6 pm start provides a night display with the colorful floats illuminating the Viareggio promenade.

Sunday, February 11 at 3 pm offers an afternoon parade attracting families with children.

Tuesday, February 13 is Martedì Grasso, also known as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday and the parade begins at 3 pm. This parade will be broadcast live on National TV RAI 3.

Sunday, February 18 at 3 pm is another opportunity for families to enjoy a parade.

Saturday, February 24 the final parade begins at 5 pm, concluding the festive Carnival month. Prizes based on popular vote will be announced and the evening ends with a fireworks display.  (rita kungel)

For tickets, parking and transportation information see the website: