Il Bacanal, the Carnival of Verona, is one of Italy's oldest street parades. Its origins are thought to date back to the dark days of the middle ages, when Verona was a city ravaged by war, flooding, disease and famine. During these desperate times, with grain prices rising, the cities poor, especially those crowded into the historic St Zeno neighbourhood, faced poverty, famine and starvation.
On 18 June 1531, in the Piazza of San Zeno, the people rose and demanded to be fed. A general revolt was only averted thanks to the intervention of some prominent local citizens, who distributed bread, wine, flour, butter and cheese to the poorest inhabitants of the neighborhood.
Amongst those charitable citizens was one Tommaso Da Vico.
Da Vico was a local doctor. In his will he requested that every year, on the last Friday before Lent, gnocchi and wine be distributed to the poor people of St Zeno.
Nowadays, on gnocchi Friday, Venerdi' gnocolar', a massive parade of over 4000 masked participants and 40 extravagantly decorated floats slowly snakes its way from Corso Porta Nuova to the Piazza of St. Zeno. Traditionally the parade is a celebratory expression of satire, comedy and joy. This was certainly the case last Friday! The parade is led by Papa' de' gnocco, a masked man representing an old king holding, instead of a scepter, a huge fork topped by a giant gnocchi.
In Piazza San Zeno there stands a stone marble slab. This slab is in fact the tomb of King Pepin, son of Charlemagne, who died in 810 and is thought to be buried under this lawn. It was from this stone table that Da Vico is said to have served his gnocchi to the poor of San Zeno. Next to the stone table is a fading monument to Tommaso Da Vico, the man whose generous act of charity is still celebrated and remembered nearly 500 years later.