Verona Carnival preserves an old tradition which dates to 1531. That year, due to a food storage grain prices rose, poor people, expecially the ones who lived near San Zeno church, were facing starvation. So, Tommaso da Vico, a wealthy nobel, decided to donate a huge sum so they can buy flour to make 'gnocchi', small dumplings that at that time were the main sustenance for poor people. Moreover, he ordered to distribuite every year, on Carnival last friday, gnocchi and wine to the people of San Zeno area. Nowadays, the 'Venerdì Gnocolar' is the key event of the Verona Carnival: the parade with masks and allegoric floats is led by 'Papà del Gnoco' and it goes through the historical town centre, ending in front of San Zeno Church where you can taste the traditional gnocchi with tomato sauce.
Many are the traditional masks, starting with a mocking Austrian court but the most celebrated one is called Papà del Gnoco, “Gnocco’s Father” (Papà del Gnoco is the king of Verona’s Carnival and the oldest “maschera” in both Italy and Europe) and only one person every year is allowed to wear such a mask. The lucky soul is democratically elected by the whole township after a fierce political campaign, and with his sceptre – a wooden fork with a huge gnocco on top of it – his royal outfit and his royal court he will attend every event during the whole celebration.