Festivals, Events and Unmissable Appointments in Venice
Venice has always been a very fashionable and fun-loving city. During the year, between religious events and secular festivals, it is a series of events involving citizens and tourists since ancient times: in short, for several centuries Venice takes advantage of every possible opportunity to have fun and to remind itself and to the world the glories and wonders of the Serenissima.
The most important event for which Venice is famous for in the world is definitely the Carnival. But in the Venetians’ hearts the most heartfelt moments are the Feast of the Redeemer, the Feast of the Ascension and the Feast of St. Mark, all events related to the civil and religious history of the city. The tourists instead are particularly attracted to other events, such as the Historical Regatta and Vogalonga, the two main races of over one hundred that take place in the Lagoon of Venice during the year.
The Carnival of Venice, among Tradition and Modernity
The Carnival of Venice is not only the most famous in Europe and in the world, but it is also one of the oldest of the Old Continent. The first mentions of the Carnival of Venice date back to the beginning of Year 1000, when the government documents refer to public entertainment and masks.
Officially, the Carnival is established by the Republic of Venice to give all citizens, especially the most humble, a period of suspension from the rigid rules that governed the moral and public order. Therefore, the masks allowed a social leveling: public and private parties could be attended by everyone regardless of wealth. But also the lords and ladies could safely indulge in extreme diversion from official life, hidden behind masks. At the end of the Carnival, which lasted a whole month, everything went more or less back to normal.
Curiosities about the Carnival of Venice: the most representative mask of the Carnival of Venice in 1700 is the Bauta. White or black, usually made of plaster, covered the face, leaving the mouth free to eat or drink, but on the other hand altered the voice, making who wore it even more unrecognizable. It became so popular that it was also worn beyond the Carnival to the point that the Government of the Serenissima had to impose some limitations: you could not wear it at night, it could not be used by prostitutes or men who entered the brothels, it was prohibited during the plague, etc.
The Feast of Sensa and the Wedding with the Sea
The Festa dell’Ascensione, Feast of Sensa, was for centuries one of the most heartfelt celebrations by the Venetians. It is the day when they celebrate the Wedding with the Sea, between the city and the water, the territory on which the Venetian Republic has imposed its domain for centuries.
The establishment of the festival dates back to year 1000 to honor the victories in Dalmatia of Doge Pietro Orseolo II on pirates, but had a more significant response in 1177 thanks to the continued commitment of the Doge Sebastiano Ziani in the peace agreement between the Papacy and the Empire. It was then that Pope Alexander III for the first time gave the Doge a blessed ring to seal the sovereignty of Venice over the sea “…just as a man marries a woman to be her lord” nowaday, the Golden Vera is annually given to the sea by the Mayor of Venice, who aboard a Bissona, a rowboat also used during the Historical Regatta, reaches the area of San Nicolò, Lido, to honor the tradition.
Curiosities about the feast of Ascension: in Venetian dialect, Sensa means both Ascension and ‘brokerage’ in the sense of percentage on business and trade. Therefore, the mercantile spirit of the city also on this occasion, goes hand in hand with the religious sentiment. The Sensa Market has always taken place along with the religious holiday.
Feast of the Redeemer, a light show
Also the Feast of the Redeemer, like that of the Ascension, is a celebration of which the Venetians are very fond of. The establishment of the festival dates back to 1577 in occasion of the end of one of the worst plagues that decimated the city: the Church of the Redeemer was built for the occasion on the Island of Giudecca. Still today, just as it was in the past, on the Saturday before the third Sunday in July, a 300 meters bridge of boats is set up over on the Giudecca Canal, which allows to walk from the Church of the Holy Spirit in the Dorsoduro district to the square of the Church of the Redeemer.
The religious festival continues with celebrations until late night, but it is the fireworks and the play of lights on the buildings of St. Mark’s Basin to attract thousands of tourists in Venice. Tradition has it that the Saturday dinner is consumed on a boat decorated with balloons and colored lights.
Curiosities about the Feast of the Redeemer: the tradition of the Feast of the Redeemer foresees a precise menu. On that evening, waiting for the fireworks and light show that will cheer up St. Mark’s Basin, two are the dishes that can and must be eaten: sarde in saor and l’anara col pien. The former are fried sardines served with onions cooked in vinegar, pine nuts, and raisins. The anara col pien is instead a small duck stuffed with minced beef meat, chopped Soppressa Veneta, lard, parsley and amaretto.
The Historical Regatta, a Competition among Gondolas and Vintage Rowboats
It has the same importance of the Palio of Siena: it is an event that attracts thousands and thousands of tourists, but for the citizens it has a very personal meaning. Venice’s Historical Regatta is an exciting racing competition of vintage rowing boats, the most prestigious of the dozens of similar events held throughout the year in Venice.
The Regatta takes place on the first Sunday of September and begins with the classic parade of boats along the Grand Canal: the historical parade is a reenactment of the Queen of Cyprus’ arrival in the city in 1489. Dozens and dozens of boats typical of the time of the Serenissima with characters in period costumes take part in the parade. The competitive component of the Regatta sees several boats and rowers compete in different age groups: the first to start are children up to 12 years of age, continues with reserved categories for specific boat models (two-oared pupparini, two-oared mascarete, Lake Garda Bisse, six-oared caorline) and ends with the champion’s race on the legendary Gondolini (Gondolas, the most traditional Venetian boat.) The arrival, for centuries, is at the machina, a floating stage created for the occasion in front of Ca ‘Foscari.
Curiosities about the Historical Regatta: the winners of the Gondolini race receive cash prizes and the much coveted flags: red, white, green and blue. Until 2002, the fourth prize was also awarded with a little pig exhibited in the parade at the end of the race. After the protests of some animal protection Organizations, organizers of the Venice Historical Regatta have decided that the living pig was to be replaced by a pig made in Murano glass. We prefer it too.
Festa della Salute, a large Pontoon Bridge on the Grand Canal
Of all the festivals that take place in Venice, the feast of the Madonna della Salute is probably the one that has kept the most religious character, for which it was established way back in 1630. As for the Feast of the Redeemer, this feast (celebrated on November 21st) was enacted after two years of plague that decimated the population.
The Doge of the period requested the intervention of Our Lady promising to build a church. The Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute, which is located in Punta Dogana, it was built and designed by the great architect Baldassare Longhena, the same who designed the Duomo di Chioggia, Le Procuratie Nuove in San Marco, Ca’ Pesaro and the Ca’ Rezzonico.
Festa della Salute is essentially a religious festival: a great pontoon bridge is set up on the Grand Canal between Punta Dogana and the Church of Santa Maria del Giglio in the district of San Marco to allow the flowing of the procession: throughout the day the Basilica remains open for continuous moments of prayer.
Curiosities about Festa della Salute: first of all, on the day of the Feast, the typical dish consumed by Venetians is the castradina, a soup prepared with mutton, cabbage and onions. Secondly: legend has it that to build the Basilica, one million poles were jabbed into the ground. This information, claimed to be true real in mid-1600s, is absolutely exaggerated. Accurate estimates indicate that no more than 100 thousand poles were used to lay the foundations of the Basilica.
The Feast of St. Mark and the Festival of the Blooming Rose
April 25th for Venice is a day of great celebration, both secular and religious. Along with the rest of Italy celebrates the Liberation from the Nazi-Fascist occupation, but at the same time this is the day that commemorates the death of Mark the Evangelist, that is the Patron Saint of the city.
The story goes that the Saint’s relics were stolen from Alexandria of Egypt by two Venetian merchants, Buono da Malamocco and Rustico da Torcello, who hid them in the middle of pork meat to bring them safe and sound to Venice. The Feast of St. Mark is celebrated with processions and religious events that are focused in St. Mark’s Basilica, in the presence of the highest authorities of the city that run from one stage to the other to honor the feast of the National Liberation.
Curiosities about the feast of St. Mark: it is a tradition on the day of the Feast of St. Mark that husbands and boyfriends gift a red rose bud to their loved ones. This is in memory of an old love dating back to the second half of 700 AD between Maria, Doge Maurizio Galbaio’s daughter, and the handsome Tancredi, a simple troubadour, composer of operas. To prove his worth Tancredi joins the army of Charlemagne to fight the Arabs in Spain. His deeds bring him honor, but unfortunately bled to death in a rose garden during the Battle of Roncesvalles. Before passing away he gives a rosebud to a paladin asking him to take it to the beautiful Maria. Whom after receiving it drowned herself in grief until the next day, when she was found dead. Since then, the rosebud, the Bocolo, is a symbol of love, a love that opens to life.
The Vogalonga, a Tribute to the Venetian Rowing
The Vogalonga is a non-competitive race of rowing boats that takes place in the month of May. It is a fairly recent event, having been established in 1974 when Venetian navigators decided to organize a race to pay tribute to Veneto’s rowing tradition. This is a special technique that requires only one rower who pilots the boat using one or two oars.
The first Vogalonga race dates back to 1975. The route is quite long, some 30 kilometers in total, and runs through St. Mark’s Basin, the Grand Canal, the islands of Burano and Murano, coming back to Venice along the Cannaregio Canal and from here along the Grand Canal until the arrival, non-competitive, at Punta della Salute. Since then, the Vogalonga has become an international event. There are always at least 1500-1600 boats (1800 in 2012,) strictly rowing boats, which take part in this spectacular event.
Curiosities about the Vogalonga: tradition has it that there is no winner at the Vogalonga. All the participants arriving to the end of the route receive a participation medal and everyone is happy with this.
Up and down the bridges, a Fun Non-Competitive March
This is a very modern feast although it’s now at its 35 th edition. It is a non-competitive march up and down bridges which sees thousands of racers involved, both locals and tourists from all over the world. The march route starts and finishes at St. Mark’s Square: there are 10-12 thousand participants on average.
Tidbits: The non-competitive march is an event for different types of walkers, usual joggers, families with children, students, tourists, but also folk groups. The latter are those who animate the march with their music and masks. For many years, bands and entertainment groups have arrived from all over the world, creating a very pleasant mix of cultures.