Lavish costumes against the backdrop of the Venice canals give the festival an otherwordly feel.
The city streets are filled with revellers in costume during the opening weekend.
The Venice carnival is thought to have started in 1162, when Venetians spontaneously gathered to celebrate a military victory in Saint Mark's Square.
During the Renaissance it became an official festival, the masks allowing revellers to forget everyday worries and the city's rigidly hierarchical class system, and indulge for the carnival period.
Decorated boats took to the Grand Canal for the opening regatta on Sunday.
Every year, 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 rat, known as the rantagana, is a figure that pops up repeatedly in local legend and tradition.
More than 100 boats and 700 rowers arrived from all over the Veneto region for the parade, which attracted 35,000 spectators to the lagoon.
It is now one of the most famous carnival celebrations in the world, with around three million visitors coming to the city each spring to watch or join in the festivities.
The carnival will last until the beginning of March, with events taking place across Venice and the surrounding islands. The most beautiful mask will be judged on March 3rd.
This year's evening celebrations kicked off with a spectacular show for the “Tutta colpa della Luna' or 'All the fault of the moon' event, which celebrated 50 years since the first moon landing.
All photos: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP