The typical masks of Carnival in the Dolomites

Carnival in Trentino, Alto Adige, Belluno and Friuli is a very heartfelt event: parades of elaborate allegorical floats, dances, theatrical performances, wooden masks and old costumes - often in the name of popular tradition - cheer on this Catholic event born in antiquity to celebrate the end of winter. Its spirit has remained unchanged over the centuries.

What makes Carnival in the Dolomites special is often the presence of allegorical figures, such as Matazìn, Gnaga or Rollate del Comelico, of the Val Zoldana and of Sappada, Zussl and Egetmänner in Alto Adige, or the Matoci of Val Fiemme, often characterized by simple costumes with noisy cowbells and with faces sometimes painted, sometimes monstrous, which represent in a funny and teasing way ancient folk customs, or the difficulties to which the populations of the past were subject.

Carnival masks

Here are a few curiosities of the most famous and bizarre masks of the Carnival in Alto Adige, Trentino, Bellunese, and Friuli:

Matazìn, the traditional mask of Comelico Superiore (BL), whose name corresponds to "Mattacino" and derives from the term "matto" (crazy). Mattacino was a rather crazy character in Venice who used to fire scented eggs from a sling. The Matazìn is therefore a prankster who loves to have fun and joke around with people. For this, he usually does not wear a mask, but a colorful blue, red and green costume with puffed trousers up to the knee, a cylinder-shaped hat decorated with pearls and colorful ribbons, striped socks and flowers on his shoes. Until the 1930s, the Matazìn wore a pink wooden mask, which was rather immediately disposed of because of its inconvenience. During the Carnival Parade of Dosoledo in Comelico the Matazìn performs in a series of traditional dances and distributes colored sugared almonds.

La Gnaga, the typical mask of Val di Zoldo (BL) which depicts a curvy woman with huge wooden clogs who, despite her age, carries a young man on her shoulders. A unique mask that represents two different characters, an allegory that symbolizes the passing of time, but also the arrival of the New Year.

The Zussl, ancient figures of Prato allo Stelvio dressed in white with colored ribbons and papier-mache flowers and with bells tied to their sides that can weigh up to 20 kilos. According to tradition, the noise produced by the heavy bells of the Zussl helps to drive away evil spirits and the frost of winter, as well as to awaken the wheat, with the hope of a new year.

The Matòci, allegorical figures of Valfloriana (Val di Fiemme - Trentino wear wooden face masks and colorful dresses adorned with ribbons and lace. Announced by the sound of bells (bronzini) tied to a belt at their sides, they open the carnival parade and are the first to arrive in the village. Tradition wants that the Matòci must overcome a series of obstacles and engage in a series of satirical "hit and response". When they enter the village, they find the road blocked by some villagers who submit them to some weird questions to understand who is hiding behind the mask. With great skill and dexterity, the Matòci respond with puns and witty jokes.

The typical masks of the Carnevale di Sappada, in Friuli, are the Rollate, the Paurn (peasants), the Pettlar (paupers) and the Hearn (lords). The three Sundays before Lent are dedicated to the traditional figures of the Paupers, the Peasants, and the Lords. The male figure of Rollate, however, considered the main mask of the sappadino carnival, is present in all three Sundays (Pèttlar sunntach - Paupers' Sunday, Paurn sunntach - Farmers' Sunday, Hearn sunntach - Lords' Sunday) and on all days between the Sunday of the Paupers and midnight of Mardi Gras. The Rollate, whose name derives from Rolln, or the noisy cowbells that are tied to their sides by a chain, is the only main mask on Fat Monday. His face is covered with a wooden mask with a thick dark mustache and eyebrows, he wears a heavy dark sheepskin coat, wide white and brown horizontal striped trousers, studded leather boots and gray or brown woolen gloves. A special feature of the costume is the handkerchief tied around the neck and placed over the fur that changes color depending on the marital status of the wearer: red for married men and white for the unmarried. Usually the Rollate carries with him a broom that is used in a threatening or joking manner. Once upon a time the Rollate was an evil mask that avenged offenses and injuries suffered; today, however, it is a masked-guide that opens the procession and announces the entrance of the other masks in groups into the houses at the time of the visits.

The Egetmann is a tradition and only Carnival di Termeno sulla Strada del Vino, in South Tyrol, which takes place on Mardi Gras on odd years. The parade does not look like a classic parade with allegorical floats, but tells a story and each figure has a precise role to play and a task to accomplish. Above all, the most important are: the "Egetmann Hansl", a straw puppet; Wilder Man "the savage", a demon with a rabbit skin mask; the "Schnappvieh", an earless crocodile representing winter; and "Burgl" and "Burgltreiber", a woman and a man chasing each other. The central figure is the Egetmann Hansl who begins the procession and is always accompanied by his bride. The peculiarity of this ancient tradition is that only men can participate, so even the only female figures are actually men in disguise. The meaning of these two masks is the announcement of the upcoming wedding to the population of Termeno. The only figure, however, who has to wear a mask is Wilder Mann, the wild man, or an ancient demon who will eventually be killed (metaphorically) by his hunter. This traditional slaying metaphorically represents the end of the winter season and the beginning of warmer weather. The figures of the Burgl and Burgltreiber, both with hands and cheeks stained with soot, respectively represent a female figure carrying her child in a basket and a man with a stick used to beat the woman. The man and the woman represent the hunt for evil winter spirits.

The traditional masks of the Carnevale Ladino in Val di Fassa mainly three: Laché, Marascons and Bufon. The Laché is both the ambassador and the guarantor of the masks, the one who leads the carnival parade with his scepter rich in colored ribbons. His costume, a mixture of masculine and feminine clothes, is adorned with a decorated headdress, a mask, held in hand, and necklaces, pendants and chains of silver. The Marascons are the great figures that always run in pairs, they never talk, they only perform at a dancing pace, making the bells tied around their waists ring. They wear white socks, leather pants, belt, scepter and a hat enriched with chains adorned with the crests of the Hapsburg Empire. With the right hand they hold a wooden mask, the so-called "facéra". The real protagonist of the Carnival, however, is the Bufon, the personification of a crazy man who offends and mocks people. Dressed in colorful socks, an apron at the waist and a headdress adorned with flowers and ribbons, he always holds the "stica" (a wooden rod) and the "cucalòch" (a spyglass with which he looks at the vices and virtues of those present).