Acireale’s Carnival History

Theory on the origins of the Carnival

Throughout time many differently ethnic cultures have given life to celebrations that today we would consider carnival-like, even though the origin is generally attributed to the Roman Baccanali. These were a form of furious carnival in which citizens, drunk on wine, would go around the city yelling, singing, and with their faces painted. The ancient Romans also celebrated Saturnalia a festival in which they would honor the god Saturn in hope of achieving an abundant harvest. Celebrations included feasting, gift giving, drunkenness, big meals and pranks. Masked parades of merrymaking featuring young boys and girls dancing on allegorical floats were held through the streets of the cities. In ancient Greece, floats were used for the yearly celebration in honor of Dionysus, the god of wine in hope of a successful breeding amongst the animal stock.

The origins of the word ‘Carnevale’ derive from the Latin words:

  • Carni levam – “Withdrawal of the meat”

Although the most accepted version of its origins come from:

  • Carnem levare – “Take away the meat”

These refer to the period preceding the beginning of Lent, the 40 days during which Roman Catholics abstain from eating meat.

Birth of the Allegorical Floats in Acireale

The idea of the first allegorical floats was developed under Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503). Sicily saw its first allegorical float in March of 1601 in Palermo. The float resembled Neptune (god of the Sea), and had people dressed up as sirens dancing around it. In Acireale, although the use of paper-mache was widely used for the realization of sanctuary statues, the first float isn’t seen for a whole century afterwards. This occurred thanks to local artisans of whom Sebastiano Longo (1839-1912) was one of, he began working with paper-mache with the intention of creating the first allegorical float around 1880. From then on into the last century many groups of artisans have entered the float making competition, and have given life to the Acireale Carnival allowing it to carry the title of “the most beautiful carnival in Sicily”.

The Masks

The masks generally used and seen on the floats are of a satirical nature and appear as caricatures of famous people, which include known politicians, actors, musicians and artists, sports stars, fictional characters and other celebrities. These masks originated around the middle of the 16th century resembled the people who controlled the Italian political and economical environment; they were designed so they would be seen as comical and ridiculous in the eyes of the general public.


Today, the carnival stays true to its origins, with the masks, the floats, and the overall feeling of fun and partying. In older times people used to throw eggs or vegetables at each other and at things as part of the celebration. Today, people throw the “lighter” confetti (pieces of paper cut up from old newspapers or random colored paper). Foam spraying has also become a sort of “sport”. The floats today not only have vivid colors and shapes but also use an advanced system of lighting that brings more life to the floats

the allegorical float 'Lasciamoli Vivere' by Giovanni Coco - 1990, who partecipated to Carnevale Ambrosiano (Milan)

“Lasciamoli Vivere” by Giovanni Coco, who haved joined the parade of Carnevale Ambrosiano (Milan) – 1990

Article from 'La Sicilia' - February 25th, 1993

An article titled “Was the most beautiful carnival”, after one of the probably best edition of ever – 1993

Ticket of National Lottery of Carnival - Viareggio, Acireale, Putignano - 1996

The first apparition of Acireale in the National Lottery of Carnival


From 2005 the Acireale Carnival has established partnerships with other Italian carnivals. One of the most prestigious and successful partnerships has been realized with the Viareggio Carnival, also knows as the Carnival of Italy and Europe.
For the first time, amidst the night of Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday, an acese float was disassembled and transported to Viareggio. After being rebuilt it paraded through the streets of the northern Italian City. The float was “Voglia di Primavera” (Desiring Spring), manufactured by the Coco/Scalia group, rebuilt in a much larger version thanks to the larger roads of the Viareggio circuit.

Allegorical Float 'Voglia di Primavera' in Viareggio's parade

The following year the Coco/Scalia group again exhibits in Viareggio with “Sicilia: Perla in un mare di sole” (Sicily: A pearl in a sea of sun).

In 2007 The Parlato Brothers group exhibit their float “Una Stretta di Mano” (A Handshake), modeled after the relative partnership between the two carnivals. The acese floats surprise the Viareggio population thanks to their attention to detail, but mainly because of the use of lights which aren’t present in the floats of Viareggio.

The float 'Una stretta di mano' by Parlato brothers in Viareggio's parade

© – Translated by Michael Park and Janelle Serrentino – all rights reserved