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Carnival Beyond Rio

Carnival Beyond Rio
© Dario Mitidieri/Getty Images
Venice, Italy

January 25-February 5, 2008

First recorded in 1268, the Carnival of Venice ("carnevale" in Italian) began as an underground event that was frowned upon by both the church and state. Yet it remained the world's largest Carnival celebration for centuries. In the 1930s the fascist government officially forbade Carnival, and it did not fully resurface until the '80s. Although no longer the world's Carnival capital, Venice's pageant is one of the most highly polished festivals with beautifully sculpted masks, ornate parades and chic masquerade balls. The festivities can last as long as two weeks, and always lead up to Ash Wednesday.

For more information: Carnival of Venice (official site in Italian)

Carnival Beyond Rio
© AP Photo/Fernando Vergara
Barranquilla, Colombia

February 2-5, 2008

Barranquilla, Colombia's fourth-largest city, has held its annual Carnival celebration since the 19th century. As Colombia has suffered some well-known PR issues over the last decades, Barranquilla's Carnival remains far less commercialized and far less known than other major South American celebrations. That said, during the four days leading up to Ash Wednesday, this city of two million shuts down to accommodate music events, masquerade balls, parades and a massive street party. It rivals any of the more famous Carnivals. Music and costumes are rich in African, indigenous and Spanish tradition and are flaunted with pride.

Carnival Beyond Rio
© Doug Armand/Getty Images
Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago

February 4-5, 2008

If one event defines Trinidad and Tobago, it is Carnival. The celebration, centered in Port-of-Spain, gyrates around the rhythms of traditional calypso and steel drum bands or the more contemporary sounds of soca. Dancers are clad in elaborate costumes, often skin-tights and adorned with sequins, feathers, glitter and beads. Locals and tourists alike suit up and dance through the streets in groups organized around a different type of band. Each one is led by a "King and Queen," who boast the largest and most elaborate costumes. Some costumes are so large that they must move on wheels like a parade float.

For more information: Trinidad and Tobago Carnival

Carnival Beyond Rio
© AP Photo/Javier Barbancho
Cádiz, Spain

January 31-February 10, 2008

For a more highbrow carnival, Cádiz, Spain, may be the destination. Renowned for the local sense of humor, Cádiz is all about satire and the creative criticism of current politics, culture and controversial events. To prepare for this two-week party, rehearsals are held throughout the year—costumes are plotted, performances are honed. Although there are parades and dancers, glamour and glitz come secondary to the send-ups of politicians and other polemic targets through the use of satirical masks, signs with word play and the lyrics of mocking songs written and played especially for the festivities.

For more information: Cádiz Carnival

Carnival Beyond Rio
Pernambuco, Brazil

February 2-5, 2008

Brazil's Northeastern state of Pernambuco, with its twin cities of Recife and Olinda, abandons the samba rhythms of Rio in favor of regional favorites frevo and maracatu. Frevo dancers wear striped outfits and twirl umbrellas to the frenetic beat while maracatu enchants with a decidedly African lilt. Recife's Galo da Madrugada (Cock of the Dawn) parade is arguably the biggest single Carnival parade in the world, drawing close to two million participants who dance through the city center. Unlike other major Brazilian Carnivals, Pernambuco's revelry is not a competition between parade groups. The large, well-funded groups dance right alongside makeshift troupes with no rivalry.

For more information: Carnival in Pernambuco

Carnival Beyond Rio
© Alex Segre/Alamy
Veracruz, Mexico

January 30-February 5, 2008 (approx.)

The largest Mexican Carnival is found in the port city of Veracruz, and has blended Hispanic tradition with Caribbean influences since the early 1920s. The festivities break loose for nine consecutive days and one of the planet's largest temporary stadiums is fashioned for the event. Spectators can choose between standard seating or more expensive boxed seating to watch dancers strut to Caribbean rhythms and Mexican favorites. For those who prefer to participate, there are also elaborate street parties, parades and dancing in the zocalo. And let's not forget the local seafood and shellfish dishes—themselves a major attraction.

For more information: Veracruz Carnival

Carnival Beyond Rio
© Hemis / Alamy
Cayenne, French Guiana

January 6-February 6, 2008

Carnival is the major unifying event of the overseas French département of French Guiana. Although much of the celebration is based on African music and culture, practically everyone participates, including French from the mainland, Brazilians from over the border and, improbably enough, the area's Chinese minority. The celebration begins on the first Sunday after New Year's Day and continues over the following weekends, which are dominated by street parties, Sunday processions and wild masquerade balls. The last four days of Carnival are a series of organized costume pageants and parades. Normal life takes a two-month vacation until after Ash Wednesday.

For more information: Carnaval de Guyane (in French)

Carnival Beyond Rio
© Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images
Patras, Greece

January 17-March 9, 2008

The Patras Carnival, ("karnavali" in Greek) dates back to the mid 19th century and is the largest of its kind in Greece. The events begins on January 17th and lasts until "Clean Monday" (the beginning of Greek Orthodox Lent). This family-friendly Carnival is a hodgepodge of different mini-carnivals that include parades, treasure hunts, a kids' Carnival and, of course, masquerade balls. The climax of the festivities arrives on the last weekend with the Saturday evening procession of Carnival groups and the Sunday parade of floats. It closes with the ritual burning of the effigy of the Carnival king at the harbor.

For more information: Patras Carnival

Carnival Beyond Rio
© Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images
Nice, France

February 16-March 2, 2008

Gorgeous Nice has been home to a dazzling Carnival since a few decades after the arrival of the original Venetian festival. Participants obscure their identity with masks and playfully mock each other on the streets. It is a Carnival of political and cultural criticism, but also of a glittering party comprised of colorful floats, giant papier mâché heads, street theater and music groups all organized around an annual theme. It draws participants from all over the world, but on the final evening, the Carnival king effigy is accompanied only by local school children—and then burned in a bonfire.

For more information: Nice Carnival

Carnival Beyond Rio
© AP Photo/Eraldo Peres
Salvador, Brazil

February 2-5, 2008

Salvador, the capital of Brazil's Bahia state, holds one of the country's biggest and most intense Carnivals. Unlike Rio's spectator parades and private balls, Salvador is more focused on an all-inclusive street party. This type of public Carnival was an attempt to wipe away social class divisions for a few days of bacchanalia. The sound truck, or trio elétrico, was invented in 1950 and soon developed into a flatbed rig that doubled as a moveable stage for dancers and musical acts. Revelers and the themed (often comically named) Carnival groups, blocos, proceed down the street around the trios elétricos to the rich variety of Bahian music.

For more information: Nice Carnival

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