Carnival History

The history of Carnival is complex with dates and origin stories often debated. However, one thing is clear; in Rio, the modern-day samba school competitions in the Sambódromo, the massive bloco (street parties) celebrations that fill the streets and the gala balls held in various locations all share a rich and interwoven history.

The Origin of Carnival

Brazil’s Carnival is a unique combination of Portuguese and African cultures. After the Portuguese colonized Brazil, they brought over what was originally a food festival as the last time to eat before fasting for the 40 days of lent. Gradually over time, the influence of African culture in Brazil brought in new rhythms, music and dancing, transforming the carnival into the party it is known for today.

The observance of Carnival began, according to many historians, in Italy as a celebration held by Catholics, before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, a six-week period of fasting and abstinence that ends at Easter.

Carnival is said to have then spread to France and then throughout Europe. Catholic Portuguese settlers of Brazil are credited with bringing the Pre-Lenten celebrations to Rio de Janeiro with the first recorded Carnival taking place during either the 17th or 18th century.

During the 19th century, different groups began to add to the celebrations in Rio. Some of there were “Grandes Sociedades” (Great Societies) which were luxurious parades held by aristocrats, also “Cordões” which were less organized groups of masked and costumed parading revellers.

The Origin of Carnival

Brazil’s Carnival is a unique combination of Portuguese and African cultures. 

Samba Arrival

Samba’s Arrival

The birth of samba music in the city played a crucial role in the formation of what is considered contemporary Carnival celebrations in Rio. During this time, the groups known as Cordões gradually became blocos.

The groups would parade in the streets with makeshift costumes while playing improvised samba songs.

The practice is still observed today and the blocos make up the widely popular Carnival da Rua (street parade).

Over time, though, some of the blocos wanted to become more organised. It was then that the Escolas de Samba (Samba Schools) was born.

According to one version of the story, Deixa Falar, the first group to call themselves a “samba school”, did so because they held their meetings near an actual children’s school.

Client Love

Rio de Janeiro is host to the world’s largest and most iconic carnival

We've got keys to the biggest dressing-up box on earth and you're invited!

Providing a VIP concierge service with unparalleled access to the Carnival samba schools to bring a unique and full emersion experience.