History of extravagant masks and costumes 

Carnival takes place during the 10 days leading up to Shrove Tuesday and was first held in Venice in the 11th century. People donned masks every year at carnival for more than two months of revelry and debauchery, until the festival fell into decline during the 18th century. The Venice carnival was revived in 1979 and is world renowned for its extravagant masks and costumes.

VENICE CARNIVAL costumes

Revellers in full regalia enjoy a beverage at a café in St. Mark's Square on Jan. 31. (Manuel Silvestri/Reuters)

ITALY CARNIVAL Venice 2016 mask

During carnival, Venice is filled with masked party-goers. (Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)

Venice carnival costume

A woman poses during the 2014 Venice carnival. (Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty)

The word carnival means "farewell to meat" and is celebrated throughout Italy in the lead-up to Lent. Here, revellers in costumes participate in the water parade Festa Veneziana, which sailed along Venice's Grand Canal on Jan. 24.

ITALY VENICE CARNIVAL water parade

(Andrea Merola/EPA)

ITALY CARNIVAL VENICE

A masked reveller hangs from an inflatable balloon during the first day of the carnival in Venice on Jan. 23. (Manuel Silvestri/Reuters)

Marvellous masks and creative costumes

This is one of the spookier masks seen at this year's carnival. 

ITALY CARNIVAL Venice 2016 masks

(Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)

Two women masquerading as Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa pose in St. Mark's Square on Jan. 31. 

Italy Venice Carnival 2016 masquerade Mona Lisa

(Domenico Stinellis/AP)

This couple really stood out for their costumes at carnival in February 2014.

Venice carnival 2016 costumes

(Marco Secchi/Getty)


The flight of the angel

The Volo dell'Angelo (flight of the angel), where a woman dressed in traditional costume descends from the bell tower into St. Mark's Square, officially launched this year's carnival on Jan. 31.

ITALY VENICE CARNIVAL Flight of the Angel

Irene Rizzi, who was crowned the 'Maria of the Venice Carnival,' descends on a zip line from the Campanile into St Mark's Square during the traditional 'flight of the angel' on Jan. 31. (Andrea Merola/EPA)

ITALY CARNIVAL Venice 2016

Crowds watch as the traditional Columbine descends from Saint Mark's tower bell on an iron cable. (Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)

Italy Venice Carnival St. Mark's Square

Irene Rizzi poses with a man impersonating the doge of Venice, after descending from the bell tower into St. Mark's Square, Jan 31. (Luigi Costantini/Associated Press)

Getting ready for the ball

Many events, parties and concerts take place during carnival, including several masquerade balls. The Grand Masquerade Ball gives people a chance to show off their lavish costumes and party just like the nobles used to during carnival. Here, guests dance at the Pisani Moretta Palace during the "Fat Thursday" carnival celebrations in February 2015.

ITALY CULTURE Venice carnival 2016

(Manuel Silvestri/Reuters)

Before you go to the ball, you must prepare. First, you have to get a costume

ITALY CULTURE Venice carnival

A tailor adjusts the dress of a guest before the start of the 'Ballo del Tiepolo' (Tiepolo's dance) at the Pisani Moretta palace during carnival celebrations in February 2015. (Manuel Silvestri/Reuters)

And of course, you'll need a mask too

ITALY CARNIVAL VENICE mask artisan

A mask artisan works on a mask in her art studio during the first day of carnival in Venice on Jan. 23. (Manuel Silvestri/Reuters)

Extra security at this year's carnival

Carnival-goers are being asked by police to momentarily lift their masks as part of new anti-terrorism measures for the annual festivities. 

ITALY CARNIVAL Venice security police

Italian policemen check masked revellers as they arrive at St. Mark's Square on Jan. 31. (Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)