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Last Updated: Monday, 12 February 2007, 13:13 GMT
In pictures: Venice Carnival 2007

Italian Olympic silver medallist Federica Pellegrini

The festival is opened by the symbolic "Flight of the Dove", performed this year by Italian Olympic swimmer Federica Pellegrini.

"Flight of the Dove"

The "dove" flies from the bell tower in St Mark's Square.

Crowds in Saint Mark's square

Thousands of people flock to Venice for 10 days of street theatre, pageants and masked balls.

Couple in Saint Mark's Square

The festival runs for 12 days, until Tuesday 20 February.

Venetian in gold mask

The carnival is thought to date back to the 12th Century. People wore masks so they could flirt and gamble without being recognised.

A masked Venetian

A mask provides the wearer with complete anonymity.

Acting troupe in Saint Mark's Square

This year's festival marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Venetian playwright, Carlo Goldoni.

Saint Mark's bell tower

The activities also include climbing on the bell tower in St Mark's Square.

Venetian in Saint Mark's Square

People go to elaborate lengths to dress in 18th Century style, the heyday of the carnival.

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