Maltese Carnival History

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The name Carnival is originated from the Italian phrase ‘Carne vale’, which means literally ‘meat is allowed’ due to the fact that during the forty days of lent, meat consumption was not permitted in Roman Catholic religion. This is why carnival is celebrated before the austerity of Lent.

The Carnival was introduced in Malta by Grand Master De Ponte in 1535. At that time carnival was all about knights entering tournaments and pageants. They were proving their skills and would be awarded for that.

When the second Grand Master, Piero de Ponte, ruled in Malta carnival changed. He complained that some of the tournaments were getting the knights to be abusive, so he made it clear that he would no longer tolerate any wild or strange behavior from the knights. He made sure that he was the only one that could approve the tournaments, and the other exercises that were necessary to train the Christian knights for their battle against the Turks.

Piero de Ponte wasn’t the only one who felt like the knights were exaggerating in their festivities. In 1560 Grand Master Jean Parisot de La Valette felt the same thing. He had already allowed the wearing of masks in public, even when this was forbidden for the rest of the year. He had also made the celebrations more fun. This is also the period where the fleets were started. Only these weren’t on land as it is now, these were actual decorated ships of the Order of St John.

In 1639 Grand Master Juan de Lascaris-Castellar issued an order, prohibiting women from wearing masks and costumes that would represent the Devil. Later those prohibitions were abolished.In 1730 were the first parades on land. These were led by the Grand Master’s carriage and flanked by cavalry marching to the beats of the drums. Behind them were all the open carriages that were decorated by the people themselves. This was the almost the same kind of carnival as we’re celebrating it now.

See the spanish translation.