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Switzerland in the grip of carnival fever

The "monster concert" which ends Lucerne's carnival more than lives up to its name

(Keystone Archive)

Carnival is the biggest event of the year in many parts of Switzerland and has become a top attraction in cities like Basel, Bellinzona and Lucerne, where humorous and frightening characters take over the streets.

Carnival in Lucerne gets off to a loud start at five in the morning on "Fat Thursday" (February 22), with the "big bang". The gun salute kicks off five days of round the clock partying in the normally sedate town.

The event ends on the following Tuesday with a "monster concert" by about 100 groups of costumed brass bands. Locals try to outdo each other by wearing the most bizarre costumes possible.

Not so in Solothurn, where noisemakers taking to the streets on Fat Thursday have to follow a dress code dating back to the end of the 19th century. Looking as if they have just got out of bed, adults wearing nightshirts, caps and red scarves try to wake up everyone else as they proceed through the ancient alleys of the Baroque town.

King Rabadan presides over festivities in Bellinzona in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, which also get underway on February 22. The highlight is the Sunday parade of colourfully costumed bands.

Payerne hosts the largest carnival in French-speaking Switzerland, which starts a week later on March 2. The four-day event includes processions of spectacular floats. Costume balls are held throughout the town on the Monday.

Basel boasts Switzerland's best-known carnival, and is usually the last of the pre-Lenten festivals in the country. It starts on the Monday (March 5) after Ash Wednesday. The lights are put out at four in the morning, when the "Morgestraich" fife and drum procession marches through the streets.

The Morgestraich begins what is considered by the people of Basel as the three most beautiful days of the year.

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