Masks and mystery as thousands of brightly dressed revellers descend on Venice to mark start of Lent

Thousands of people flocked to the streets of Venice for the annual carnival to witness the stunning masks and elaborate costumes to mark the beginning of Lent.

The famous festival which dates back to the Middle Ages sees revellers donning traditional masks as well as showing off more modern interpretations on the costumes. 

Some were competing to win prizes for the best dressed in the famous St Mark’s Square, but contestants could be found across the city posing in different locations.

The carnival takes place across Venice between February 16 and March 5.

A glorious headdress and painted mask evoke the presence of a Geisha standing before the famous Bridge of Sighs as part of the carnival in Venice on Friday

A glorious headdress and painted mask evoke the presence of a Geisha standing before the famous Bridge of Sighs as part of the carnival in Venice on Friday

A glorious headdress and painted mask evoke the presence of a Geisha standing before the famous Bridge of Sighs as part of the carnival in Venice on Friday

A lady dressed up in the colours of Autumn, with butterflies and red leaves around her, blows a kiss to the hundreds of spectators who lined the streets

A lady dressed up in the colours of Autumn, with butterflies and red leaves around her, blows a kiss to the hundreds of spectators who lined the streets

A lady dressed up in the colours of Autumn, with butterflies and red leaves around her, blows a kiss to the hundreds of spectators who lined the streets

Woof woof: White and red was the theme brought by these two channelled through the white coats of their pups who they brought along for the ride

Woof woof: White and red was the theme brought by these two channelled through the white coats of their pups who they brought along for the ride

Woof woof: White and red was the theme brought by these two channelled through the white coats of their pups who they brought along for the ride

Some of the fancy dressers decided to put a  modern twist on the traditional garb, like this trio who wore industrial-era goggles and had clocks and cogs sewn into their tophats

Some of the fancy dressers decided to put a  modern twist on the traditional garb, like this trio who wore industrial-era goggles and had clocks and cogs sewn into their tophats

Some of the fancy dressers decided to put a  modern twist on the traditional garb, like this trio who wore industrial-era goggles and had clocks and cogs sewn into their tophats

This regal-looking couple wore white masks with red painted lips and jesters crowns in gold and blue with jewels sewn into the lining, as they looked to compete for the best dressed at the carnival on Friday

This regal-looking couple wore white masks with red painted lips and jesters crowns in gold and blue with jewels sewn into the lining, as they looked to compete for the best dressed at the carnival on Friday

This regal-looking couple wore white masks with red painted lips and jesters crowns in gold and blue with jewels sewn into the lining, as they looked to compete for the best dressed at the carnival on Friday

This stunning couple opted for white and black ensembles, with flashes of silver painted on their lips harmonising with the shimmer of platinum in their jewels

This stunning couple opted for white and black ensembles, with flashes of silver painted on their lips harmonising with the shimmer of platinum in their jewels

This stunning couple opted for white and black ensembles, with flashes of silver painted on their lips harmonising with the shimmer of platinum in their jewels

This carnival-goer wore a brilliant headdress of white lace and gold satin, to accompany a matte gold mask and pearls dangling from the sides of the face

This carnival-goer wore a brilliant headdress of white lace and gold satin, to accompany a matte gold mask and pearls dangling from the sides of the face

This carnival-goer wore a brilliant headdress of white lace and gold satin, to accompany a matte gold mask and pearls dangling from the sides of the face

Tale as old as time: This pair appearing as Beauty and the Beast took a moment to sit on a stone bench, while 'Beauty' checked for updates on her phone, Beast stared blankly

Tale as old as time: This pair appearing as Beauty and the Beast took a moment to sit on a stone bench, while 'Beauty' checked for updates on her phone, Beast stared blankly

Tale as old as time: This pair appearing as Beauty and the Beast took a moment to sit on a stone bench, while ‘Beauty’ checked for updates on her phone, Beast stared blankly

These magnificent participants opted for an Arabian inspired ensemble with deep black - almost purple - colours of their clothes matching with opulent golden flourishes in the linings and the beads

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These magnificent participants opted for an Arabian inspired ensemble with deep black - almost purple - colours of their clothes matching with opulent golden flourishes in the linings and the beads

These magnificent participants opted for an Arabian inspired ensemble with deep black – almost purple – colours of their clothes matching with opulent golden flourishes in the linings and the beads

A less formally masked reveller (left) holds a mirror to a lady dressed in the colours of autumn, with golden brown leaves covering her dress

A less formally masked reveller (left) holds a mirror to a lady dressed in the colours of autumn, with golden brown leaves covering her dress

A less formally masked reveller (left) holds a mirror to a lady dressed in the colours of autumn, with golden brown leaves covering her dress

This quartet stood by gondolas on the famous canal with orange, green, blue and pink headdresses pairing with white and gold robes

This quartet stood by gondolas on the famous canal with orange, green, blue and pink headdresses pairing with white and gold robes

This quartet stood by gondolas on the famous canal with orange, green, blue and pink headdresses pairing with white and gold robes

A golden dress is brought to life by red and orange roses sewn through its front, beside a man dressed in regal purple with silver frills

A golden dress is brought to life by red and orange roses sewn through its front, beside a man dressed in regal purple with silver frills

A golden dress is brought to life by red and orange roses sewn through its front, beside a man dressed in regal purple with silver frills

Blue aliens: This couple looked like something from a science fiction movie with their punchy blue colours, strange headdresses and strange wings attached to their backs

Blue aliens: This couple looked like something from a science fiction movie with their punchy blue colours, strange headdresses and strange wings attached to their backs

Blue aliens: This couple looked like something from a science fiction movie with their punchy blue colours, strange headdresses and strange wings attached to their backs

A lady's bold purple dress carried the message 'Viva Venezia' while more conservative colours of salmon pink flowed from the lady next to her's dress

A lady's bold purple dress carried the message 'Viva Venezia' while more conservative colours of salmon pink flowed from the lady next to her's dress

A lady’s bold purple dress carried the message ‘Viva Venezia’ while more conservative colours of salmon pink flowed from the lady next to her’s dress

The white coats of these pups and their red collars match the colour scheme of their owners as they take a break from the aciton

The white coats of these pups and their red collars match the colour scheme of their owners as they take a break from the aciton

The white coats of these pups and their red collars match the colour scheme of their owners as they take a break from the aciton

Flowers of the forest: This couple looked like they had walked from the set of A Midsummer Night's Dream with their outfits channelling deer, with antlers to match 

Flowers of the forest: This couple looked like they had walked from the set of A Midsummer Night's Dream with their outfits channelling deer, with antlers to match 

Flowers of the forest: This couple looked like they had walked from the set of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with their outfits channelling deer, with antlers to match 

Night did not stop the action as these ladies were able to demonstrate with fairy lights circling round their dresses as the sun set on Venice

Night did not stop the action as these ladies were able to demonstrate with fairy lights circling round their dresses as the sun set on Venice

Night did not stop the action as these ladies were able to demonstrate with fairy lights circling round their dresses as the sun set on Venice

Two gentleman carrying lanterns and wearing three-peaked caps move in the darkness as night falls on the carnival

Two gentleman carrying lanterns and wearing three-peaked caps move in the darkness as night falls on the carnival

Two gentleman carrying lanterns and wearing three-peaked caps move in the darkness as night falls on the carnival

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