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The Patras Carnival, Patrino karnavali is the largest event of its kind in Greece and one of the biggest in Europe. It has more than 160 years of history. The events begin on 17 January and last up to Clean Monday. The carnival of Patras is not a single event but a variety of events that includes balls, parades, hunting of hidden treasure, kids’ carnival etc. Its apogee is in the last weekend of Carnival with the Saturday evening parade of carnival groups, the extravagant Sunday parade of floats and groups, and finally the ritual burning of king carnival at the St. Nikolaos Street wharf in the harbour of Patras. Its characteristics are spontaneity, improvisation, inspiration and volunteerism.
Most people agree that starting event of the Patras Carnival was a ball given in the residence of the merchant Moretis in 1829. However the carnival, as most carnival events in the Mediterranean and the Balkans, is connected with ancient pagan rituals, as those to honour Dionysus. According to these traditions, in the heart of the winter, the faithful invoke the deity with special feasts and he is reborn in order to bring spring once again. In modern period, French troops of general Maison stationed in the city after its liberation from the Turks. Later on, and as consequence of the prosperity of the city in the end of 19th century the carnival festivities take a more regular nature. The first carnival floats appeared in the decade of 1870s. Then the floats were exclusively creations of individuals, only later did the Municipality of Patras undertake to construct a large number of them. In the same decade, in 1872, with contributions of rich raisin merchants the celebrated "Apollo" Theatre is built, and it entertains carnival dances, as it does precisely today, because the theatre continues to have a central role in the carnival celebrations. In 1880 on Saint Anthony's day the first "mpoules" appeared (teams disguised that hang around in the neighborhoods and with humorous disposal joke with friends). This custom tends to disappear nowadays. Besides, as the historian of Patras Carnival Nikos Politis testifies, beautiful carnivals were organized during the belle époque as in the years 1900, 1907, 1909 with the attendance for first time of individuals of each social class and origin. This period also gave birth to the egg-war custom, with wax eggs stuffed with confetti (made with special machines) which the carnivalists threw from the balconies. Although this custom has disappeared today, it is considered to be the precursor of the chocolate war.
The developments of the following decade were not favourable for the carnival; the continuous wars and conflicts (Balkan wars, World War I, Asia Minor campaign) send the men in the war front and brought economic crisis and desolation to the city. In the first postwar years the situation does not improve perceptibly, only some scattered events testify the arrival of Carnival. Obvious exception constitute the imposing and amazing carnivals of the years 1938 and 1939. Nevertheless, the World War II and the consecutive Greek Civil War bring a decennial obligatory interruption. In the beginning of the 1950s the first hesitant thoughts for a resurgence of carnival are expressed. The most pessimistic predict a failure: "nothing will be as before". However, the carnival is indeed reborn. The pioneer musical groups "Orpheus" and "Patraiki' Mantolinata" lead the effort. The Patras Carnival returns in the lives of the citizens of Patras but also all Greeks, especially those that could afford (mainly affluent Athenians) to travel in Patras in order to participate in the carnival, as in its famous Bourboulia balls. In the same period the Greek cinema depicts snapshots of carnival in its films. Yet more historic scenes can be seen in prewar films. Still in the 1950s, the carnival becomes the object of attacks, as fanatic Christian and other misinformed moralistic organisations roll up to Patras from other regions of Greece during the carnival in order to denounce orgies, corruptness, "Sodom and Gomorrah", but they are prevented from creating trouble by the police. The completely unfounded accusations meet with indifference or a feeling of nuisance by the citizens of Patras and visitors of carnival. It is characteristic that the local church does not sympathise with the troublemakers since it knows that the carnival is a completely innocent recreational event. Yet, in the same period in certain cases censorship is imposed in certain carnival creations which upset the establishment with their humour. Finally in 1964 the year of king Paul's death the Carnival was cancelled.
Under no circumstances could these limited exceptions shade the magnificence of carnival, which had already known Pan-Hellenic recognition while it also attracted the attention of certain international media. In 1966 the carnival was reorganized. The journalist Nikos Mastorakis introduces the Hidden Treasure Hunt in which 94 citizens of Patras and visitors with their cars take part. The first prize was won by a team led by a friend of the carnival from Thessalonica; his name was Alkis Steas and he presented the game starting from the following year. Thus, the late Steas became for decades the legendary presenter of the carnival, which was broadcast by ERT and was watched by all Greek TV viewers. The presenter's expressions such as "the Carnival city of Greece", when he referred to Patras and "be happy" and "keep dancing!" when he referred to the carnival groups, remain historical. In 1974 the modern phase of the carnival begins, as the revelers are convinced to abandon their cars and parade on foot in the streets (until then only floats paraded). Since then each year the spectacle climaxes, the carnival has become gigantic and hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to Patras to witness the proceedings. From the early beginning of 2011, Carnival of Patras has its own Web TV channel, broadcasting live and on-demand videos in www.carnivalpatras.tv.
The Opening Ceremony
Irrespectively of when the Triodion falls,the three-week period preceding the first Sunday of Lent, it is customary for the Carnival of Patras on start on the day of St. Anthony (17 January). The opening ceremony takes place on George Square and includes pantomimes and patters, dances, endless music and fireworks.
The Children carnival
A spectacular, yet substantial, take on the traditional baby rally. The Children's Carnival includes a parade with the participation of masqueraded children's groups from nurseries, kindergartens, musical schools etc. Over 5000 children participate whereas the festival is completed by numerous game events and constructive activities. Their objective is to introduce the younger generation to the Carnival and to distinguish their abilities in artistic expression related to aesthetic or satirical masquerading. You can watch the parade live in www.carnivalpatras.tv.
The Saturday night parade
This is also called the "Nihterini Podarati" [Night Parade on foot].In earlier years, only the Treasure Hunt groups could participate, without their floats. However, the last few years every group is free to join. Night, bright lights, an overwhelming stream of people, colors and high spirits combine, create a spectacular scene.
An extension of the traditional festivities based around the burning of the float of the Carnival King, with concerts, dances, a farewell to the carnival past, announcements about the carnival to come and countless fireworks. It takes place at the port on Sunday night and is also broadcast on TV.