The History of Carnaval – Part.1

When the year starts and after all celebrations, everybody gets ready to the 365 days ahead. Work, school, holiday trips, new house, new car…

I don’t think so….
It still party time, why?
Because is coming the…



Known as the world’s biggest popular celebration, the Brazilian Carnaval became famous for Rio and São Paulo’s parade, with huge floats, thousands of people, costumes, music and parties all over the city. But, the party attracts millions of people to enjoy and jump with the Trio Eletricos every year in Bahia. It is the public holiday most expected by Brazilians.

But what do we celebrate exactly at the Carnaval?

If someone that never heard about it has gone to Brazil and has seen all the half-naked women in Rio and São Paulo, all people kissing and jumping among the other thousands in Bahia and know that was all about a religious celebration. This person would go back home straight to the Asylum!

But indeed, the Carnaval is a religious party, celebrated 40 days before Easter. This period is called Quaresma ( Lent in English), where people were (or still) used to fast and avoid having sex to purify the body and the spirit to Easter. Now let’s think about it…
40 days without food and sex to purify themselves before Easter, I think people needed a farewell party before all of that. That’s where it was created the “Carne levandas” (In Latin, means, goodbye to meat, take the meat out). The most accepted hypothesis to the name Carnaval is the one where the term Carne levandas was slowly changing…
From Carne levandas to
Carne levamem,
Carneval and finally… CARNAVAL 

all words variants of Italian dialects. But the Carnaval has begun way before all of that…


The first mark of Carnaval was in 4000 B.c with the rural celebrations to the Gods of Fertility in Egypt, Persia, Phoenicia and Babylonia. The gods were worshipped with dances and music to frighten the negative powers from the fields. Those Babylonic parties with the duration of 5 days, was known by the big sex appeal and the inversion between servants and lords (Does it sounds familiar?).

In Athens between the years of 605 to 527 B.c, the Greek government officialized the cult to Dionysus, god of the culture, wine, ecstasy, the transformation and of the sex. Those parties were characterised by the parades where the images and representations of the god were carried along the streets on mobile devices with wheels among a crowd of naked men and women, announcing the arrival of Dionysus, led by Satyrs and Nymphs and thousands of masked people, dances, music, wine, sex…etc.


As the ancient Rome adopted almost everything from Greece, they also incorporated a celebration to the god Bacchus, in a way 3 times bigger.
The Bacchantes (Bacchus priestesses) were dancing in the streets, singing and attracting, even more, people to the celebration. The parade had big floats along all streets of Rome (as it was in Greece).


Along the years, the Carnaval has taken bigger proportions, mainly in Venice (Italy), Nice and Paris (France) and in Nuremberg (Germany). In 1545 at the Council of Trent, among the many subjects discussed was also the Carnaval, that ended up being recognised as an important popular manifestation, being protected from hostile judgments of the creed. Even though after that, most of the creed kept their opinion of Carnaval being a peccancy celebration, mainly among the high society, as it was in France with the Masked Ballrooms, which ended up in a big orgy.

Venice Carnivale 2011

Ok, but how Carnaval came to Brazil?


Since the colonial period in Brazil, when the Portuguese arrived here and brought the slaves, the parties which preceded the Quaresma (40 days) was called Entrudos. They were characterised by the jokes and dances that would be different depending on the location and social groups. By the end of the 17th Century, the Entrudos were practised by all then Colony of Brazil. When the court has changed to Rio de Janeiro in the beginning of the 19th Century, it has had begun the attempts to civilise the party, because of its anarchist characteristics, the Entrudo was seen as a savage thing. From 1830, a lot of (failed) prohibitions were instituted in another attempt to stop the orgy and transform the party in a civilised celebration (as it was in Italy and France). This period was identified as the High Society Carnaval, where they imported the masked Ballrooms from Venice and Nice. But, knowing Brazil, this copy would not last for long, and it didn’t. Every city had its own way to celebrate the party. In Rio de Janeiro by the end of the 19th Century, a whole series of Carnaval groups were taking the streets to celebrate, they were called by Cordões or Blocos. In 1890, Chiquinha Gonzaga has written the first song specifically for the Carnaval, named “Ô Abre Alas”. The song has been written to Cordão Rosas de Ouro, which was one of the groups parading through Rio’s streets during the Carnaval. Those Blocos and Cordões were the precursors of the actual Escolas de Samba (Samba schools).


Nowadays in Rio, the parade is hosted at the Marquês de Sapucaí sambrodome, commissioned in 1983 and finished in 1984. Designed by the great Oscar Niemyer. It has the capacity of 90.000 people. The Carnaval in Rio got 2 main institutions, LIESA and LIERJ. The first one organise what its called Grupo Especial (special group), where are the top Samba Schools that parade at the sambodrome, the second organises what its called Grupo de Acesso (Access group) or Group A, which is the division where the schools compete to get a place at the special group.

During the parade, the schools have to walk a distance of 700 meters (2,300ft) in 65-82min and they are judged on 10 categories which they have to present at their parade with creativity and originality. They are:

Bateria (Percussion)
Samba-Enredo (Samba-plot)
Harmonia (Harmony)
Evolução (Flow and Spirit)
Enredo (Theme of the year)
Conjunto (Overall impression)
Alegoria e Adereços (Floats and Props)
Fantasias (Costumes)
Comissão de Frente (Vanguard Group)
Mestre Sala e Porta Bandeira (It is the Flag Carrying couple, Mestre Sala is the man and Porta Bandeira is the woman)


In São Paulo, the popular Carnaval was inspired by the small inner cities where the poor people were celebrating by their dances and music. The first cordão in São Paulo was created by Dionisio Barbosa in 1914 and it was called, Cordão da Barra Funda, today is known by Camisa Verde e Branco samba school.

In 1991, the Anhembi Sambodrome was opened. It was designed by Oscar Niemyer and holds around 30.000 people.

The rules of the parade are pretty much the same as it is in Rio. The main divisions are Grupo Especial (Special Group) and Grupo de Acesso (Access group). The Samba Schools in São Paulo have to parade for 55-65min along the 500 meters of the sambodrome.

The rules of judgment in São Paulo are basically the same as it is in Rio, same categories.


The tradition of Carnaval is now in the DNA of every single Brazilian and it has been getting newer characteristics and with the past of the years. In the beginning of the 70s, the parade started to be broadcasted by the Television. Samba-Enredos with sponsors, a big interest of the celebrities to participate in the party, among other changes, ended up to transform Carnaval in a huge mediatic product. But unfortunately, what it is seen on the TV is not a real portrait of what happens at the Sambodrome.

The media could never follow the parade properly, it has been always showing some pretty face here, another face on the float, etc. It appears that what it is showed, matches their own interests. The parade it is so much more of what we see broadcasted, who watch the parade are not able to see the fat guy, the elders, the disabled people and all the joy and love every single one has for their respective Samba school. The party has been transformed into a big stage for the celebrities and for wealthy people.

But the good side of this is that many jobs were created, the interest of other countries for Brazil and Carnaval increased incredibly, attracting millions of tourists to Brazil every year. The economy it is hugely boosted as well.

The competition is good, keep all the schools working their creativity and just make the celebration even bigger. But it is important to keep alive the fire that created all this magical world. It is vital the maintenance of the community in the Samba Schools, keeping the passion and connection strong, so when people parade in the Sambodrome they will understand that it is not only about the money, but also for love.


But this is not the end…
Carnaval is not just about Rio and São Paulo. Stay with me, stay tuned and see you all soon!! I have great news… 😉


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s