Tens of thousands kick off Venice Carnival

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 January 26, winds up on February 12.