pranzo_di_carnevale_1359997247 600 x 354

This Article was originally posted in

Original Article by John Petsalis

English Translation by Aleko Damaskinos

We commence by describing the Corfu carnival with the following publication in the literary section of the newspaper “ACROPOLIS”, Volume 1, Number 10 (1888).

In Corfu they all frequented with their families the clubs and other common meeting places, wearing every type of mask and fancy dress.
The aristocrats co-exist with the working class and the working-class daughter dances and inter-mixes with the wealthy boys.
Even the older men forget their hated old age, flirt and take part in the merriments and many times…..dream of their former love life.
Freedom reigns between the sexes and of course they all forget their house rules during these three weeks of amusement.
Everybody has a great time, enjoying the dances and the full debauchery of these occasions.

The “Triad” (Three Sundays of carnival) as our ancestors ridiculed it and called it “Lahanofaon” (Cabbage eater) because during Lent this custom was introduced for all to eat great quantities of greens vegetables.
Carnivals were social celebrations and didn’t have any religious connotations.
Very few are the ones who fast during this period, mainly the clergy and the lay people of the church or “takounades” as they were called by Laskaratos, because most villagers are mainly non-meat eaters due to poverty and not due to any religious belief.
They don’t intend to become meat-eaters for these days in order to be cleansed on Clean Monday, so they say farewell to meat!

According to the origin of the word “carnival” derives from the Frankish word “carne-vale” (“enjoy meat”).
In most villages a small dance takes place in the forecourt of the church and many with fancy dress make their appearance carrying gold, silver, precious stones and every conceivable sort of decoration.

During the British Protectorate though our satirical poets did not leaved unscathed the dances performed by the authorities and the aristocratic congregations to which common people were alien to.
They rejected and satyrised all the happenings in that area, in other words the archaic customs of the people and their dignity.
Carnivals were closely connected to theatrical performances. The theatre is the soul, the centre and focus of everything.

The feelings of flirting, falling in love and the intentions of people and their relationships all wake up again! We find all these virtues in the theatre and we are all very interested. They please us.
During the carnival period we have the “Mantsies”, the very active evening parties in which their “financed feelings” will be seen.

The writers of satyrisms and the singers will shine in the heaven of poetry.
Pockets will be emptied, pass-keys will be made for the drawers of the parents. They will release pigeons and sugared sweets, often even cod-fish and “kavalorizes” (roots of the cauliflower), animal horns and…..
The theatre was always the arena of victims and many times there were bloody confrontations because of a black or blue eyed girl singer!
The usual ending of the last performance was an act of vandalism and so they broke up the seats and the lamps.

Ilias Tsitselis

size1 600 x 446


Carnival has its origin in the ancient Greek rituals of Dionysos.

In the Ionian Islands though, especially in Corfu the greatest influence was from the carnival of Venice.
Carnival in Venice was a very old custom and it is mentioned for the first time in 1094.
It is possible that these festivities took place on the island even before that time with fancy dresses and impertinance…

Children and many people sang on the roads :

“Sior mascara ve conosco
Se de bianco se de rosso
Se de verde se de giallo
Siora mascara andemo al ballo”

And in translation :

“Mrs masked one, I know you
If white or red, green or blue
Mrs masked one lets join in the dance”

547c7db8a6_6204011_med 366 x 550The Nobility wore the same fancy dress costumes. A black silk cloak and on their head a three peaked hat.

The men’s masks were white and the women’s black.


By Spyros Evangelatos in Athens, 1970, page 14

On Corfu festivals and other festivities took place at the now demolished “Porta Reale”.
The ridiculous carnival festivities during the Venetian rule by Morosini took place under the stone-built and impressive arcade.
In Venice even the Cardinals danced.

Mrs Aliki Nikiforou-Testone in her book : “PUBLIC CEREMONIES IN CORFU, DURING THE VENETIAN RULE” (1999) writes the following on page 411 :

“Formal dinners” (banchetti d’onore)

The official opening for the carnival ceremonies was given by the dinners, offered by the Bailo (Title of a Venetian Governor) on the first Sunday of the “Triad” (The three weeks of carnival) in honour of Corfu Town.
The invited guests to the Vailos Palace did not exceed forty people.
Special seats, slightly different to the others for the Catholic Archbishop who wore a “roketo” (kind of dress). The Venetian representative wore a “Romana” (Venetian garment) and the Protopapa (Chief Orthodox Priest) when in attendance marked the code of rites which concern the Governor Captain (18th Century) together with the opposition of the Orthodox Church towards these carnival festivities lead us to the assumption that the absence of the Chief Priest from these carnival banquets were perhaps neither rare nor by chance.
Next to Chief Priest was seated the delegation of the Town including the members of the Syndicate, Judges and the members of the “Conclavio” (members of the majority).
In order to reach the number guests, other Corfiots were invited according to the wishes of the Venetian host.
The adjutant of the Bailo issued all invitations three days before to everybody except the Venetian dignitaries and the Chief Orthodox Priest.
The invitations for these should be given by the Captain of Alavardieri the previous Saturday.
On the second Sunday of carnival, the Governor Captain was the host.
In his Palace the same events take place without it being the sole formal banquet given during the carnival period.
Banquets were also offered for all the officers of the Venetian fleet when it happened to be anchored in Corfu.

In order to find out what was offered at these banquets we must search on the accountancy books of the “Rason Vecchie” clerks who as we saw earlier controlled the financial management of the “Magistrati”.
The detailed receipts of all payments concerning these formal banquets at the end of the 18tgh century by the Town Council for the Venetian authorities (from the Corfu archives) help us to form a picture which possibly to a larger extent approaches the corresponding choices of the Venetian Administration.
It is known that the Town of Corfu during these occasions imitated the Venetian customs.

They offered pigeons, turkeys, all kinds of meat cooked with many spices and also fish and other seafood including caviar accompanied by rice or pasta from Venice.
Cheeses and sweet wine were also included and were offered in abundance at these formal banquets which were organized by the Town.
Some descriptions of the manifestations which accompanied these formal banquets are missing.

In the community archives there is no mention of any kind of music or recitation of poems which normally ended a banquet.
The Palace decorations were similar to the decorations used in all other formal functions.

We are not in the position to know more except for the general festive atmosphere prevailing in the Town.

People wearing masks and fancy dress inundated the narrow alleyways (kandounia) of the Town., following a special permit issued by the Bailo….

In order to comprehend the habitual offerings at the banquets in the Serene Republic d0000uring the carnival period we must revert to a decision of the 14th century according to which it was forbidden for women to attend such banquets in the Venetian State for the entire duration of the carnival festivities, unless they had a close family connection with the host.

The “Bombaria”- The beginning of the Corfu carnival

Gian_Domenico_TiepoloXXCarnival_Scene_also_known_as_The_Minuet_1750 600 x 430The word “bombaria” derives from the word “momare” (to mime) and “bomba” which in the Venetian dialect means “Have a great time.

In Venice the “bombaria” are first mentioned in 1441 and it seems they were a dearly loved entertainment for the Venetians on formal occasions which of course included the carnival.
Initially these took place at gentlemen’s houses and later at public places.
Later they were connected to comedies which included a certain subject.


From the magazine “Panathinea”, volume 106 (1905).

It must be noted that the “momaria” was a kind of show which was connected to current events and also with the Venetian social problems.

Information we gathered allows us to correlate the “momaria” with the life in Corfu and we learn further that the “momaria” were spreading to the East through the Venetian communities who lived in the regions administered by them.
It must be noted that the friendly attitude of the Corfiots towards the Venetian habits is a fact and the local authorities reinforced this feling with public functions like the carnival.

098 550 x 427The Serene Republic in this way wanted to become more acceptable in this manner in order to relieve the conscience of its citizens.
We must not forget the presence in Corfu of the well known Antonio Molino, singer, actor who played the lute and the violin.
He sang “madrigalia” and recited in the language known as “Grecheshe”.
He was in Corfu from 1526 to 1527 and became famous as an improviser and attracted the public.
We must see that some recitations or some unfinished theatrical performances must have taken place from the time Antonio Molino arrived in Corfu.

Ion the other hand we must not disregard the possibility of theatrical performances or even some amateur productions in Corfu on the occasion of public rituals which were organized because of the islander’s outlook to Venice.

Carnival was also incorporated in these rituals.
The “madrigalia” is a kind of polyphony but not in the ecclesiastical sense, vocal music which flourished in the Renaissance.
There are combinations of two to eight voices even though three or six would suffice.
The text which is turned into music is always worldly with poems and small sections of prose.

“Grecheshe” is a dialect spoken even today in Southern Italy, the “Grekanika” as it is known. Quite similar to the Italian language spoken by Greeks in Italy.

The Carnival ProcessionPlaton Mavromoustakas

“ The spectacle in the urban area of the Corfu area- 1996 (February-March).

The circle of seminars with the subject “Modern Greek Theatre (17-20th Centuries).

We described the “mantises” before, but because of the problems they faced they were replaced by the “Kavalkines”.

Before we mention these (circa 1790) it is worthwhile to mention the writings of the traveler Ando Grasset Saint Sauver when he visite
Corfu : “The Theatre was intended solely for social activities. Nobody watched the show! They visited theatre boxes in exchange for compliments.
Complete freedom reigned. Some played cards, others were eating…Some theatre-boxes looked like cheap restaurants while others remind us of gaming rooms”.

Now let us go back to the “Cavalchines” which replaced the “Mantises”.
They constituted a fancy dress dance.
The principal Theatre actress who organized the dance placed a large basin on top of a table and each visitor placed his donation there.
They were thanked by somebody bowing down to them or by a humble thank you.

These “Cavalchines” collected around 2,000 Franks-a very substantial amount for those times.

Ladies with striking costumes sewn by special dressmakers watched the dance from the rented theatre-boxes exchanging glances, serpentines and billet dou.

The famous Giacomo Casanova in his memoirs when he was in Corfu writes :
“Charmed by the wife of a Venetian officer who was sad because the carnival in Corfu was not to her liking, persuaded the General Governor to loan him the war frigate so that he would go to Otranto (closest part of Italy to Corfu)- Looking through the port-hole of this vessel which incidentally was a quarantine ship he had to choose between two theatrical troupes and one of these he brought to Corfu very quickly despite the danger when pirates attacked the ship.
The information we have concerning the actors and actresses brought by Casanova most certainly describe a theatrical group known as : Commedia dell’ Arte”

GIOVANNI GIACOMO CASANOVAchevalier de Saingat-with madame F at Corfu 325 x 447GIOVANNI GIACOMO CASANOVA-Chevalier de Saingat with Madame F at Corfu.

See above Platon Mavromoustakas

“The “troupe” “Comedia dell’Arte” greatly influenced the fancy costumes until today and the most important personalities which emerged from here were :

HarlekinmaskeThe Harlequins

The most basic character of the Italian “Comedia dell’ Arte”
His ancestors were the servants of Aristophanes (The blonde in the “FROGS”) not only of Plouto Terentio and the Byzantine mimes but also of the acrobats and jugglers of the Middle Ages.


Is a character of the Comedia dell’ Arte. She is the mistress of the Harlequin.


He incarnates the character of a simple, naïve but honest servant. He continuously makes blunders and always finds himself in a difficult predicament because he can’t hide the truth.

During the last century and a half of Venetian Rule a Naval Officer, Captain or rear-admiral was in charge of entertainments and he was given a budget for an entire year.
He was obliged to bring to Corfu ballets and operas of the 18th century.
The Venetian Naval Officers were the first to standardise the carnival.
Intense card-playing took place and there were four “casini” in operation : One for the Venetian Nobility, One for the Cotfu Nobility, One for the army together with high government officials and one for the Naval Officers. These “casini” had pecial areas for people to meet and talk and many tables for playing cards. The card games were : “Tresette”, “Briskola”, “Passeta” and “Pharaoh”.
The notorious Giacomo Casanova attended one and writes : “I spent most of my time in Kaffenions playing “Pharaoh” with a frenzy”!

On the Thursday (of burnt meats) during Venetian Rule and even in the 19th century the children of the aristocracy performed in shows of the “insane”.
They dressed up as “mad-children” and turned upside-down the town with their disturbances.

Comedia dell’ Arte is the name of the popular Italian comedy of improvisation which was very popular during the 16th and 18th centuries. Soon it was loved beyond the Italian borders.

“Comedia dell’Arte” means “Comedy of Art” not in the sense of artistry but in the sense of technical issues and professionalism. In other words the comedy evolving from the “technicians”. These were professional actors in contrast to the amateurs.
It was a group of popular actors who created by themselves their costumes, masks and the peculiarities of their voice and also the various positions of their body. In this way they represented their characters.
It mainly relied on the actors and their improvisations rather than to the writers of the comedy.
Most actors should possess agility and be expert dancers. It was one of the first theatres to include women actresses.

Pietro_Longhi_-_The_Ridotto_in_Venice_-_WGA13416 600 x 433Many dances took place and the last dance could not extend further than midnight on the last Sunday of the carnival, when they removed their masks according to the traditions.
It is mentioned in the archives that there were dances which lasted six days and two nights (veglione) and four nights wearing a mask (cavalchina).
The dances and entertainments did not stop during the Russo-Tuirkish siege (November 1798-February 1799).

During the British Protectorate the carnival festivities came under strict rules. At the same time strict conditions were applied for the functioning of the theatre.

Gazzetta degli Stati Uniti delle sole Ionie . 1847 117. 15  1847 333 x 600A newspaper of the United States of the Ionian Islands (Gazetta degli Stati Ionie) Number 1847 117 (15 March 1847) writes about the rules and regulations of the theatre signed by Andrea Moustoxidi and Petro Vraila-Armeni.

Gazzetta degli Stati Uniti delle Isole Ionie . 1838 384. 23  1838 275 x 600The performances were published in the formal Newspaper of the United States of the Ionian Islands, Number 1838 384 (23 April 1838)

It must be mentioned that the spectacles, mainly operas were what incited the Corfiots to fill up the “San Giacomo” theatre which ceased to be an area of any other kind of entertainment.
Later the post-midnight dances were moved to other locations in the Town. The quadrilles and “Lansiedes” were danced in halls which had a large dance-piste and an orchestra. Specialist dance teachers taught all who were interested making up the “kloo” of the evening especially at the importand balls.

1896 1Special carnival societies were founded. Apart from the one at the Municipal Theatre, the dances of the “Old One” will never be forgotten, with Pittako conducting the quadrilles at the “Gimnastirio”, “Rolina”, “Pikilion” (formerly the ETHNIKO cinema) and the dances in the halls of “Sotiriou” and “Skarabechio” and later at the “Phinika”.


The Nobles and the upper classes enjoyed themselves dressed up as “Dominos” and “harlequins” . They wore masks and set up stalls at the “Spianada” (The large square in the Town). These were decorated with flowers and other plants. They competed for the best decoration throwing at each other “rodola” (multi-coloured serpantines) and sprayed the passers by with “bombetes” (watered down eau de cologne).

diorthomeno078 500 x 410The masked from the “Londonia” (Carriages) threw small bunches of sweet violets to all
who passed by. These flowers were grown and cultivated for this purpose
all year and on the last Sunday they walked along the “Liston” wearing
their masks and waiting for the “Will” and the burning of the King of
Carnival at midnight.
We must mention that during the Venetian era, they organised equestrian
Competitions (Jousting) according to the rules set by the Most Serene
Republic. They were known as “Giostres”.

The first testimony in Corfu is mentioned in the book by Andrea
Marmoras “History of Corfu” in 1599.
It is almost certain that these took place a long time before this.

1 001 600 x 371

Spyros Evangellatos mentions the following :

After the second world war was declared in Corfu and the carnival festivities were no longer active.

These festivities were re-installed with the initiative of a group of romantic and well known Corfu families in 1955 who decided to continue the traditional celebrations.
The families Manessi and Kourkoumeli with great love and care organised these festivities once again and in this way the old Corfu festivities gave a new breath of life to all Corfiots with their dances in the streets and in the Corfu halls, at the “GIMNASTIRIO” and the “PHINIKA”.

006 395 x 600In 1962 the ORGANISATION OF CORFU FESTIVALS is formed.
Hundreds of masked people and floats received at the Old Port the “live” King of the Carnival, Sior Carnavalo!

About ten members got together on Thursday nights. They dressed up wearing msks and held each other by the arms, jumping in the streets and the narrow alley-ways (Kandounia) and mocked all their known people.
They bowed to the shop-keepers and knocked loudly on the knockers of the doors.
They cried out loudle “OO-OO SIORA MASCARA” and generally made a lot of noise.
As a rule they were dressed in black satin, dressed as dominos, ladies of the older times, servants, countesses and in any other form of attire known as “rag fancy dress”.
They wore black masks and did not remove them…easily.
They went into houses uninvited, but the lady of the house was always forewarned about their visit and with pleasure opened the door. “Hello!” “Welcome!” What can I offer you Mrs masked one? Would you like a coffee?
Nothing! They said and never accepted the offer so that they would not remove their mask.
They took a few offered sweets with their gloved hand and ate them on the way laughing and joking and sometimes smoked a cigarette in the doorway.
They never visited households which were in mourning and they never troubled the aged.
Hurriedly they ended up in the halls of the “ORIVATIKOS” or the “PERIGITIKI” (The Mountain walking and Rambling Societies).
The right-wing people went to the “PERIGITIKI”. Later they all ended up at the “PHINIKAS” dance Hall.

Description by our friend Annie Nounesi.

The “PHINIKAS” dance hall those days held a dance twice a week called “Balle d’ Enfants” (Children’s dance with masks) and at the same time a “Balle Prolongee” (Dance for the grown-ups).
Who can ever forget the “sweet” voice of KOSTIS who became associated with the carnival?
On the last Sunday in this building the dance of the committee always took place and we must not forget the Halls of the “GIMNASTIRIO”.

We must also never forget Mr Spyros who dressed up and impersonated Charlie Chaplin.

From the time when the carnival was once gain alive, the scouts under Kourkoumelis always constructed a worthy of note float which competed with the equally beautiful floats constructed by the Manessi family and some others.
On the last Sunday, floats, groups of masked people and individual masked people headed to the lower esplanade for the award of their prize and later the burning of the “Carnavalos”.

They all then made opprobrious gestures singing the following :

“Oh! Mr Carnavalos!
What have they done to you?
They lit a fuse and then burnt you…”
This praiseworthy endeavour to revive the carnival in 1955 find the people who had just come out of a hard war, an Italian-German occupation, a civil war and all that derives from the above, like mourning, poverty etc.

The ground was fertile for some freedom, gaiety and amusement.
As time passed the halls for all these merriments multiplied and of course, every day entertainment for all became easier and the relations between men and women reached “dizzy heights”.

Because everything became very commercial the carnival was led to disdain and I don’t think that ever again its creative incentive will be re-created.

This Article was originally posted in

Original Article by John Petsalis

English Translation by Aleko Damaskinos

Translate »

Pin It on Pinterest