The Carnival of Viareggio fills a whole month of daytime and nighttime festivities with parades of allegorical floats, local parties, masked balls and festivals of all kinds.
Viareggio's broad seaside promenade is lined with grand buildings designed in what Italians call Liberty-style architecture that is similar to Art Deco, alongside fashionable boutiques, bars, nightclubs and seafood restaurants. Just a few blocks inland are acres of park-like pine forest— la pineta —where lovers stroll, children play and bicyclists and joggers get their exercise under the shady canopy of trees. Among Viareggio's frequent vacationers over the decades were the poets Lord Byron and Percy Shelley and opera composer Puccini, who lived nearby.
When Carnevale time rolls around each year in February and March, the elegant town is transformed with a riot of color, music, and creative energy.
A triple cannon shot from the sea announces the start of each Carnevale parade, and lavish floats topped with huge papier-mâché figures, some reaching four stories high, begin their slow move along the Lungomare promenade. About a million people each year visit Viareggio for month-long Carnevale, taking in a variety of concerts, sports and cultural events, but mostly flocking to watch the awe-inspiring procession of elaborate floats accompanied by hundreds of costumed and masked revelers, dancing to music
Of Carnevale's five parades that take place each year, three are held on Sunday afternoons leading up to Fat Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday), when the fourth is scheduled – and televised live on national TV.
The floats and huge figures are designed locally by teams of artisans, some of whom learned the art from their fathers and grandfathers. The towering characters are funny, whimsical, allegorical, mythological or often satirical takes on political, show business and historical figures. Not only are the figures stunning in their visual artistry but, underneath the animated surfaces, they are run by sophisticated machinery that moves limbs and facial features by complex mechanisms. Some liken watching the Carnevale parades to attending exhibits of moving art.