Most of us are familiar with Venice’s Carnival – the elaborate costumes, the decorated masks, and the extravagant parties – but did you know there’s a carnival in nearby Verona every year, too? Verona’s Carnival, called the “Bacanal del Gnoco,” includes some familiar elements you would see in Venice, but there are some things that make it quite unique, indeed.
The Bacanal del Gnoco takes place in Verona at the same time as the Venice Carnival (and every other carnival celebration), since it’s based on the Catholic calendar. Carnival takes place right before Lent, so it’s usually in late February, but the dates change every year. Verona’s Carnival dates back to 1531, when the city’s residents were starving due to floods destroying their crops. According to one story, a wealthy Veronese man donated the funds to distribute flour to the poorest people, with which they made gnocchi (potato pasta dumplings). Later, his will stipulated that gnocchi and wine should be distributed to the locals on the last Friday of Carnival each year – and a tradition was born.
Today, in addition to the many period costumes people wear during Carnival in Verona, there is one man who dresses up as “Il Papà dello Gnoco,” or Father Gnoco, on the last Friday of Carnival. He wears a long white beard and a red cape, and his sceptre is in the form of a fork that has stabbed a single piece of gnocchi. On this Friday of Carnival, Il Papà dello Gnoco leads a parade in central Verona that ends in the piazza in front of the church of San Zeno, where gnocchi are on offer to everyone.