The exotic Carnival of Venice started on 26 January, and is to conclude on 12 February. One of the highlights of the 18-day festival (Carnevale di Venezia in Italian) is the Most Beautiful Mask competition, which will be held on Saturday 2 February evening. The staging ground for the competition will be the iconic St Mark's Square or, as the natives call it, the Piazzo San Marco... the centre of the charming city.

The Carnevale di Venezia is believed to have originated in the 12th century, when the city won a war against Ulrico of Aquileia. The victory was celebrated with a massive carnival at the Piazza San Marco, a tradition that has endured to this day.

For 18 days, the waterways of Venice explode with cultural activity, including everything from traditional theatricals and musical concerts to historical tours, fashion shows and, of course, some delightful medieval traditions - like masks.

The theme for the 2013 Carnevale di Venezia is "Live in Colour" and for the mask competition, participants will come dressed in costumes, wigs and masks. The most beautiful will take home the prize.

Meanwhile, also on Saturday is the traditional Festa delle Marie - which started in the ninth century. The occasion is to mark the feast of the purification of Mary and is held on this day every year. 12 girls from the poorest families, chosen by the church, are dressed in rich clothes and jewellery, provided by the churches of the city.

The evening will also see an event honouring a more contemporary cultural artefact - the Swedish pop band ABBA.

Click here for the complete list of events at the 2013 Carnival of Venice.

Check out photographs of the 2013 Carnival of Venice below

An artist from the French performance group called Ilotopie performs in an aquatic show "MetaMorPhosiS Aquaticae" on the Cannaregio Canal during a parade as part of the opening ceremony of the Venice carnival January 26, 2013.REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
A couple, wearing costumes, poses at San Marco square during the Venice CarnivalReuters
A couple, wearing costumes, poses at a canal with the Bridge of Sighs in the background during the Venice CarnivalReuters
A man arrives to take a vaporetto, or waterbus, at Venice's Canal Grande, with a bag containing costumes which he made for the Venice CarnivalReuters
A man prepares his creations, costumes for the Venice Carnival, as he arrives by car in VeniceReuters
A woman is reflected in a mirror as she wears one of her husband's creations, an elaborate costume for the Venice CarnivalReuters
A woman looks on as she wears one of her husband's creations, an elaborate costume for the Venice CarnivalReuters
An artist from the French performance group called Ilotopie performs in an aquatic show "MetaMorPhosiS Aquaticae" on the Cannaregio Canal during a parade as part of the opening ceremony of the Venice carnivalReuters
An artist from the French performance group called Ilotopie performs in an aquatic show "MetaMorPhosiS Aquaticae" on the Cannaregio Canal during a parade as part of the opening ceremony of the Venice carnivalReuters
An artist from the French performance group called Ilotopie performs in an aquatic show "MetaMorPhosiS Aquaticae" on the Cannaregio Canal during a parade as part of the opening ceremony of the Venice carnivalReuters
Artists from the French performance group called Ilotopie perform in an aquatic show "MetaMorPhosiS Aquaticae" on the Cannaregio Canal during a parade as part of the opening ceremony of the Venice carnivalReuters
An artist from the French performance group called Ilotopie performs in an aquatic show "MetaMorPhosiS Aquaticae" on the Cannaregio Canal during a parade as part of the opening ceremony of the Venice carnivalReuters