Thousands attended the grand opening in St. Mark's Square of the Venice Carnival, celebrated under heightened security following the sexual assaults on New Year's Eve in Cologne and the ongoing terror threat in Europe.

Authorities have increased surveillance throughout the city and increased the number of officers on patrol, both under-cover and in uniform, but rejected a proposal to ban revelers from wearing masks. By Venice tradition, elaborately costumed Carnival-goers stroll through the canal-laced city showing off their finery, finished with hand-painted masks.

Venice police chief Angelo Sanna told The Associated Press that the discussion about masks was approached "with balance and attention, because Carnival is the masks." He said spot checks would be made of masked revelers to check identities.

Carnival opened Saturday and continues through Feb. 9.