Frocked to frolic: Masked revelers turn out in style for Carnival of Venice

Ornately costumed partygoers have showed up in droves for the Carnival of Venice, a centuries-old, annual festival, which began as a way for Venetians to let loose in the days leading up to Lent, the period before Easter when Catholics observe penance and prayer.

Nearly three million visitors flock to the islands of Venice every year to partake in the carnival's gala dinners, parades, masked balls and concerts. Many participants dress in lavish costumes and elaborate hand-painted masks usually made of leather, porcelain or glass.

The carnival, which runs until Feb. 17, culminates in the contest for la maschera più bella (the most beautiful mask) that takes place during the event's last weekend and is judged by a panel of international costume and fashion designers. 

Masked revellers pose in front of St. Mark square during carnival in Venice, February 8, 2015. Photo by Stefano Rellandini/REUTERS.

A masked reveler poses at Saint Mark's square during Carnival in Venice, February 8, 2015. Photo by Stefano Rellandini/REUTERS.

A masked reveler poses in St. Mark's square during the Carnival in Venice, February 7, 2015. Photo by Stefano Rellandini/REUTERS.

The traditional Columbine descends from Saint Mark's tower bell on an iron cable during the Venetian Carnival in Venice February 8, 2015. Photo by Stefano Rellandini/REUTERS.

A masked reveler poses in Saint Mark square during carnival in Venice February 8, 2015. Photo by Stefano Rellandini/REUTERS

Iranian mask artisan Hamid works in his shop "Ca' del Sol" near St. Mark's square during the first day of carnival in Venice February 1, 2015. Photo by Stefano Rellandini/REUTERS.

Masked revelers ride a gondola during the Venice Carnival, February 7, 2015. Photo by Stefano Rellandini/REUTERS.

Revelers inside the Caffe Florian coffee shop in Saint Mark's Square during the Venice Carnival, February 7, 2015. Photo by Stefano Rellandini/REUTERS.

Revelers pose in front of St. Mark's Square during the Venice Carnival, February 7, 2015. Photo by Stefano Rellandini/REUTERS.

A masked reveler poses in St. Mark's Square during the Venice Carnival, February 7, 2015. Photo by Stefano Rellandini/REUTERS.

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