Patras. The “king” of carnivals in Greece is here!
Patrinó karnaváli (Patras carnival) is the largest event of its kind in Greece and one of the biggest in Europe. This carnival is purely of Italian origin and it is completely unrelated to the pagan carnival customs of the rest of the country. The Carnival started approximately 180 years ago, and it is believed to have acquired a prestigious reputation thanks to the masquerade balls thrown in the mansions of the local bourgeoisie.
At some point, from 1870 onwards, the bourgeoisie also began to finance the construction of carnival floats and the first parade came into being. The carnival of Patras flourished thanks to the city’s port and commercial relations with the cities of Italy, which, by the beginning of the 19th century had established a reputation as masters of carnival celebrations. In the mid 20th century, the carnival acquired its present form, as locals perceived it as a way to escape the gloom of the post-war years.
Along with the bourgeoisie’s events, parties were also thrown in tavernas or houses, called “boúles” (an improvised masquerade, usually with the help of clothing belonging to the opposite sex). The floats and masquerades were also constructed by popular artisans. As well as the “boúles”, we can also see the bourgeois influence in customs such as the waxed egg war, the chocolate war, or the dances which take place every night in Patras’ night clubs, social clubs, the Municipal theatre, even tavernas.
How about being a driver or a steward on a carnival float?
Every year in Greece, during the Carnival period, floral, artistic and satirical floats are taking the field. As usual, giant decorated cars, carts and coaches, and colourful papier-mâché figures will fill the city streets. A key character is the Carnival King, presented in all his splendour. The Carnival also has its Queen, who is actually a beautiful young lady on a floral or an artistic float. If you’d like to get a taste of how it feels, imagine the biggest party you've ever seen. Add loud carnival music, DJs, and thousands of flamboyant carnival-goers with painted faces wearing sequined and feathered costumes. You still won't have all the energy of the carnival of Patras! But have you ever marched in a night parade? “Nyhteriní podaráti", takes place on Saturday night, before Sunday’s extravagant parade. Thousands of carnival participants organised into groups dance holding torches in the dimly lit streets of the city. The only float participating is the King’s, and that’s the reason why this parade is called “podaráti”, which means “walking”.
Don your favourite disguise and become a treasure hunter.
As part of the city’s carnival festivities, locals and visitors come together to form large colourful groups. Every group takes a different name and disguises according to a specific theme, such as “Colourful Umbrellas”, “Cosmic Chimneys” or “Love Princes”. Depending on your spare time, or your experience as a member of a carnival, you can choose just to march in the city parade, or to actively participate in treasure hunt games and various contests. Test your knowledge and answer questions about history, literature, and math, or test your skills as a detective, finding your way through hidden clues scattered all over the city. Express your artistic flair and enter artistic painting, pantomime and theatrical sketches contests. Get ready for surprises, as more imaginative games await you this year. And don’t forget: your team performance will be evaluated as the treasure hunt continues. Do your best and your team will definitely emerge as the final winner!
There’s even a Children’s Carnival!
The Children's Carnival includes a parade for children's groups in fancy dresses from nurseries, kindergartens, musical schools etc. The event has taken over from the traditional baby rally, which was organized for the first time in 1968. Children are introduced to the creation of cultural events through fun and play, numerous games and constructive activities, and can let their imaginations run wild while they learn about alternative forms of art, such as satirical masquerading. The main activities are the Carnival Workshop, the Carnival Cities, theatrical performances and musical events, exhibitions and, of course, the Children’s Grand Parade. In this parade, your children will march in groups together with approximately 12,000 children from Patras and all over Greece. The parade is accompanied by children’s floats (whose themes are based on famous fairytales), the youth band of the Municipality of Patras, and street theatre. All the children dance to the rhythm of specially-composed music, in a safe environment, accompanied at all times by teachers and parents.
At Sunday’s night closing ceremony, the carnival bids us an emotional farewell with the burning of the float of the Carnival King in the harbour of Patras. Concerts, dances, and countless fireworks accompany the ritual. People shout and fill the surrounding streets as they escort the Carnival King to the fire. But nothing really comes to an end here: the Mayor of Patras gives the signal for the beginning of the next carnival, and we all start dreaming again.