Olympics to Climax With Carnival, Felliniesque Fantasia

Maria Cristina Valsecchi in Rome
for National Geographic News
February 24, 2006

This Sunday night some 2,000 dancers, acrobats, high-wire artists, and clowns—not to mention opera singer Andrea Bocelli and popsters Ricky Martin and Avril Lavigne—are poised to usher out the Winter Olympics with an explosion of Carnival color and cinematic inspiration.

The 2006 closing ceremony in Turin (Torino) takes its theme from the circus and the traditional Italian Carnival, the oldest in the world.

Celebrated in various forms throughout the Western world—New Orleans's Mardi Gras celebrations are the most famous U.S. example—Carnival is a week to revel before Lent, the Christian period of penitence that begins on Ash Wednesday, which this year falls on March 1.

"Carnival is the feast of joy, freedom, and dreams—nothing better to close the great dream of the Olympic Games, with a touch of nostalgia," said Daniele Finzi Pasca, director of the closing ceremony.

Carnival Characters

The Olympic closing ceremony falls in the middle of Carnival, which this year runs from February 21 to 28.

The choice of Carnival as the ceremony's theme "tells a lot about Italians, because the spirit of Carnival is breaking rules and roles but still remaining in the stream of tradition. This is exactly what we love to do!" Finzi Pasca said.

Celebrated in towns across across Italy, Carnival takes on the character of its locales: the orange-throwing fight in the Alpine town of Ivrea, the giant papier-mâché floats in the Riviera resort of Viareggio, the sophisticated masquerade in Venice. (See a photo gallery of Venice.)

The closing ceremony, though, "will not be a systematic review of the local Carnivals but a mix of all these flavors," Finzi Pasca said.

"There will be groups of world-famous Italian Carnival characters, like the white-dressed and black-masked Pulcinella from Naples and the many-colored Arlecchino (Harlequin)."

"There will be also the less known Gianduia, Torino's own Carnival character," said Giovanna Buzzi, costume designer for the ceremony. A lover of wine, women and food, the honest peasant Gianduia is typically portrayed wearing a tricorn hat and brown jacket.

Just as Gianduia evokes the easygoing attitude of this year's Olympic city, stock Carnival characters are a parade of regional stereotypes: Arlecchino the joker, from Venice; Gioppino the sensible one, from Bergamo; Rugantino the troublemaker, from Rome; Pulcinella the lazybones, from Naples; and so on.

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