The Carnival of Ascoli Piceno is a traditional mask event held in the period between St. Anthony the Abbot’s day and Lent.
The Carnival in Ascoli begins each year on January 17 with the celebration of St. Anthony the Abbot, an ideal break between the sober Christmas period and this time of the year when everyone is allowed “to go crazy” (as St. Augustine once said: “Semel in anno licet insanire”).
Many citizens of Ascoli take part in the event, especially on Shrove Thursday, Sunday and Tuesday (Mardi Gras). On these three dates, many initiatives take place. The most important is the Competition of Masked Groups, whose first edition was held in 1958. The nominees are introduced on the last Carnival day. In the following days they are ranked; finally they are awarded during a special ceremony.
The Sundays preceding Mardi Gras are called:
- Friends Sunday,
- Relatives Sunday,
- Carnival Sunday
On the Relatives Sunday, parents and grandparents bring their children to the Feast of Fantasy. On Thursday morning school children celebrate Carnival in the main town square, Piazza del Popolo, with His Majesty the King of Carnival Buonumor Favorito.
Carnival in Piazza del Popolo
During Carnival time, Piazza del Popolo becomes the heart of the celebration. It is usually embellished with elegant fin de siècle chandeliers and it turns into a large ballroom ready to welcome all participants. The surrounding area and every street in the historic town centre are also decorated with bright multi-coloured chandeliers that create the atmosphere of a splendid open-air theatre. The playful spirit of Carnival in Ascoli involves everyone, both masked people and spectators. The town gets crowded with masked groups and many individual masks, caricatures or characters. With few resources and lots of creativity, they live with irony, wit and astuteness the soul and the surreal essence of the event, engaging the spectators in their stories and representations and making them an integral part of their masquerade.
Masked groups and caricatures
Masked groups and individual masks (caricatures) participate in the Carnival of Ascoli; the first ones are divided into different categories depending on the number of participants in each group. They prepare beautiful costumes and their set designs are spread around the town where they perform sketches often in the local dialect.
The caricatures are citizens who usually mimic local celebrities, like mayors, councilors, or national celebrities, like well-known politicians, Prime Ministers or Presidents.
Lu sfrigne is a caricature representing a beggar taking cover under an umbrella from which some herrings hang.
Carnival in the Piceno territory
The Carnival of Ascoli Piceno, the Carnival of Offida, the Carnival of Castignano and the Carnival of Pozza represent the “historical Carnival of the Piceno territory”. The “Carnival in Farce – a festival of Commedia dell’Arte” represents an important part of it. These four Carnivals are all different from each other and from other Italian Carnival celebrations. Here, in fact, there are no parades of papier-mâché floats. In the Piceno territory, Carnival is a continuous exchange of roles among the masks and the audience, who become the protagonists of the stage. Hence the close relation between the historic Carnival of the Piceno and the tradition of the Commedia dell’Arte.