Tens of thousands kick off Venice Carnival

VENICE (AFP) - Some 70,000 revellers, many wearing elaborate costumes and masks, thronged Venice's St Mark's Square on Sunday to watch the traditional "flight of the angel," a highlight of the annual Carnival.

Marta Finotto, a 20-year-old Venetian student, had the honour of performing the stunt, gliding on a harness from the 99-metre (325-foot) belltower of Saint Mark's Basilica to a stage below, wearing a black top hat and a red gown with matching boots.

The centuries-old Venice Carnival, rooted in Christian festivities ahead of the fasting period of Lent, attracts hordes of foreign and Italian tourists to its masked balls and theatrical performances.

Nadia, a visitor in her 40s from the northeastern Italian town of Biella, said the revelry helps people to forget Italy's financial crisis, at least for a while. "Once a year we forget everything, we have fun, otherwise life has no meaning," she told AFP-TV.

The event, which began on Jan 26, winds up on Feb 12.

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