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IN PICTURES: Venice's iconic Carnival kicks off in style

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IN PICTURES: Venice's iconic Carnival kicks off in style
People in masks sail down the Grand Canal to celebrate the opening of Carnival. All photos: Filippo Monteforte/AFP
10:08 CET+01:00
The Venice Carnival kicked off in typically extravagant style on Saturday, as thousands of visitors to the lagoon city joined locals in the annual festival. Here are some of the most stunning photos of the spectacular show.

Each year, Venice's world-famous Carnival brightens up the dreary days of January and February with shows, parties, and of course the magnificent costumes.

The Venice carnival is thought to have started in 1162, when Venetians spontaneously gathered to celebrate a military victory in Saint Mark's Square.

READ ALSO: Nine handy Venetian dialect words to impress the locals with

It was during the Renaissance period that the carnival became an official celebration, appealing to Italians of the time because of the opportunities afforded by the masks and parties to forget about the rigid class system and everyday worries of the era.

While the city was under Austrian rule, however, the festival was abandoned, and didn't get started again until 1980 when the government revived the carnival to promote Venetian culture and history.

Nowadays, around 3 million visitors descend on the city to join in the celebrations, which continue until Shrove Tuesday.

The huge popularity of the carnival has turned the spotlight back on Venice's well-documented struggle with excessive tourism, which many local residents blame for making the city 'unliveable' for Venetians.

READ MORE: 'Tourism is killing Venice, but it's also the only key to survival'

Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has taken a tough stance on overcrowding, and at the weekend encouraged locals and visitors to head out to some of the city's suburbs to see the carnival celebrations unfolding there, such as in Mestre on the mainland.

One of the key events of the festival is a competition to judge the most beautiful mask.

In centuries gone by, maskmakers were esteemed members of society, with their own guild and governed by separate laws, while laws also regulated the periods of the year in which people were allowed to wear masks.

But not all of the festivities revolve around traditional beauty. The carnival begins with 'the Flight of the Rat', when a giant model rat leads beautifully decorated boats in the opening regatta sailing down the Grand Canal.

This year, the theme of the carnival is 'Creatum: Civitas Ludens', Latin for 'Creativity: City of Sport'.

All photos: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

READ ALSO: Venice to restrict cruise ship access to protect its historic buildings

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