Nice : the city of French Carnival
" The CARNIVAL is the most important popular cultural event that a country can know "
. Jorge Amado
" The Carnival Parade in Nice has gained the reputation as one of the best parade in Europe "
. Charlotte DeWitt and Bruc Skinner - International Festival Association
The Carnival is nowadays celebrated at different moments of the year according to countries or regions.
Best European winter festivals, such as the famous carnivals of Nice, Venice, Tenerife, Viareggio, Cologne, it knows its highlight at the time of Shrove Tuesday and spreads its fame beyond the Atlantic Ocean to Rio, Trinidad, New Orlêans, Quebec.
Already, in the XIII-th century, the Carnival of Nice knew the fame and it remains another big popular festival nowadays.
At the end of last century, it had become the most important Carnival of Europe.
All the most illustrious members of European and world Gotha came to stay the winter in Nice and participated in the Carnival.
The Carnival of Nice corresponds at the same moment in embodiment of the cultural identity of Nice - by the wealth and the force of its popular prints and to the meeting of other festivals and the cultures.
Every year, it gives to the inhabitants of Nice a spontaneous opportunity to relive a period coloured with their history. The grotesque space becomes the cœur of a town which beats and vibrates all its fires.
To find the previous history of this festival, it would be necessary to return very far to past, maybe, in the time of the prehistoric man. Heathen feast originally, channelled by the Church in the Middle Age which inserts it into the cycle preceding the period of Fast, Carnival takes place during the " days fat " (On Shrove Tuesday), or during the cycle between Christmas and On Shrove Tuesday. " Levare, levamen Leathery meat ", " removes the flesh ", is one of the definitions the most usual étymologic about the Carnival. It hints at the period when one " removes the flesh ", where one consumes last time of the fat kitchen before entering Fast or " quadragésime " (period of forty days hanging who the Christians should consume of light cooking, until Easter). " Carrus navalis " naval float ", is the another definition advancedto move closer to the previous history of the carnival, in the naval float or the transported boat, on which Dionysos, the god come from the sea, penetrated into the Greek islands to celebrate the name-days deserving of his name. So, before entering Fast, period of abstinence and light cooking, the carnival was the last holiday which gave place to loose excesses on behalf of the participants, in " allowed excesses " ~, to start again famous Freud's formula. In the urban space, a fantastic stage setting builds up itself, with rites respected during the centuries, and roles played by nearby persons of the world of the Supernatural, of the Fantastic, stemming from the popular mythology of the Carnival. Among these " roles ", appears that fundamental, of the Man Savage: Plant, leafy, or animal (bear, deer, ram, goat, symbol of fertility and regeneration of the Nature or Driver of the " souls of the deaths " which roam during the grotesque period, between the World of the Darkness and the Sky. The grotesque space becomes a place of mediation between the realm of the deaths and that of the alive.
The grotesque mask, masks disguise, then invested with a sacred, almost magic sense, is the essential attribute of the grotesque holiday. One finds the track of it in the main civilizations of the Mediterranean Sea: in Egypt, in Palestine, in Greece. This last door of numerous representations of masks on grotesque vases, wall frescoes, which represent masked dancers.
It was about grotesque comedies that one called "Cosmos", either of tempestuous name-days in honour of the cult of Dionysos.
Saturnalia and Lupercales in the time of Romans in December and February, were the object of loose flood on behalf of the participants; one attended the inversion of the sexes (the men disguised as women) and in the inversion of the roles (The slave became the boss for day). The Christian Church did not reach in spite of its constant criticisms and its condemnations to repress the heathen and loose character of the Carnival which knows a fertile life during the Middle Age, and develops in several medieval cities in Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain.
Nowadays, the symbolic meaning of the Carnival lost many of its sense, but the festival lives with aspects and different calendar according to regions.
Winter holidays, the Mediterranean Carnivals privilege the big parades of floats in pasteboard which are œuvre of talented artists as the carnavaliers of Nice, Viareggio, Putignano (Italy), Patras (Greece), Malta or Valencia, in Spain.
Very original and traditional at the same time, carnival of Santa Cruz of Tenerife, (Canarian Islands), implies the whole population that it is for the parades of comparsas influenced by the afro-Brazilian and Cuban musics, either the fantastic rite of the Funeral of the Sardine.
The Carnival of Nice, - which was the biggest carnival of the world in the Beautiful Time, and among which " corsi grotesque " and the " battles of flowers " influenced unmistakably and sometimes served as model in the development of the Rio carnivals, Viareggio, New Orleans, Quebec, either in the famous parade of the Tournament of Roses of Pasadena - is in a bend of its history.
Rich in past and in exceptional patrimony, it is in search of a new breath and a new meeting is made between carnavaliers and contemporary artists. But before arriving there, please, let us tell you the history.