In the middle ages, the Roman Carnival was a two-day affair of feasts, races, and bull fights in Testaccio and Piazza Navona; when Paul II of Venice took the tiara during the Renaissance, the festivities were stretched to nine days. Via del Corso, the mile-long road then called Via Lata, hosted horse, donkey, and water buffalo races. Floats full of masked performers rode through the streets and lavish banquets accompanied theatrical performances. Shortly after the Pope was defeated by the secular Unification movement, Carnival was banned—a victim of vanquished Papal power.
You don’t skimp when you’re honoring a carnival.
But tiny vestiges of the defunct Roman Carnival survive: Children dress in costumes and toss fistfuls of colorful paper confetti (these will remain wedged in cobblestone cracks through Easter), and Romans of all ages indulge in seasonal sweets. In the weeks preceding Lent, we queue at bakeries and pastry shops for treats like castagnole. Though health-conscious Romans drive a market for a baked version, traditionally castagnole are chestnut-shaped fried dough balls rolled in sugar, soaked in liquor, or dusted with cacao. You don’t skimp when you’re honoring a carnival.