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Carnival Sensa Feast - Day Redentore Historical Regatta
Madonna della salute San Marco Vogalonga The Palio of the Ancient Maritime Republics


The earliest information regarding the Venice Carnival is to be found in State laws, in private papers or in accounts of festivities, documents which mention it by referring to the Christian interpretation of the Latin term Carrus Navalis, processional floats in the form of a ship, used in Rome during the purification and the exorcism rites which were celebrated in February, the last month of the Roman calendar.

In 1296 Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras was declared a holiday by the Senate. In Venice the Carnival embraced quite a long period of time, with a foretaste at the beginning of October to coincide with the opening of the theatres. The Carnival true and proper began on Boxing Day (December 26th) when the festivities reached their peak on Carnival Thursday and ended the day before Ash Wednesday.

From the middle of the XV to the end of the XVI century the organisation of the Carnival festivities was delegated to the Compagnie di Calze, associations of young nobles distinguished by variously coloured patterned hose.

Carnival meant performances in theatres, in palazzi, in coffee-shops and in small playhouses, but above all it meant a climate of widespread festivity in which ordinary people and nobles, all wearing masks, mingled with dancers and jugglers, with vendors balsam and cooked apple, with Commedia dellArte actors and snake charmers.
In this climate of festivity the mask was the only possibility, in a social barriers, for everyone to be considered equal.

The most common disguise in Venice in XVIII century was the Bauta with consisted of the Larva (a mask which was initially black, then white oilcloth), of the Bauta in the strict sense of the word with lace and veil, of the Tricorno (a balck three-corned hat) and the black Tabarro (a silk or woollen cloak).

There were numerous rites and ceremonies initially of pagan origin which were then transformed in the celebration of power and grandeur of the Serenissima.
War could be identified in the Macchina dei Fuochi (Fire Machine), the Venetians dexterity in storming the walls of Aquileia in the Forze dErcole (Human Pyramids), battle in the Ballo della Moresca (Moorish Dance), justice in the Taglio della Testa del Toro (Decapitating the Bull) and peace in the Volo dellAngelo (Flight of the Angel).

In 1979 some citizens associations, backed by the citys enthusiasm and participation, breathed back life into a virtually neglected tradition. Since then, firstly the Municipal Authorities and then the Promove Consortium Have organised and promoted the Carnival events which take place in Venice and in the mainland during the ten days preceding Ash Wednesday.

The other culminating moments include the water procession, with festively decorated boats and masked rowers, which concludes with fireworks against the evocative backdrop of the Cannaregio Canal, the flight of the dove which marks the beginning of Carnival, and the final grand ball on Shrove Tuesday in St. Marks Square.

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Ascension Sunday (called the sensa by Venetians) commemorates the citys Marriage to the Sea.

While historically speaking, the Sensa is connected to civil and religious rites and events (Pope Alexander III bestowed an indulgence to Saint Mark on Ascension Day), today we prefer to bestow on it the meaning of a festivity of the Sea and therefore of a festivity of a city whose raison dtreis its relationship with the sea.
The Sensa celebration dates back to the year 998 when the Venetian fleet, baptised by the Bishop and under the command of Doge Pietro Orseolo II, sailed on Ascension Day to liberate Dalmatia.

This victorious undertaking meant that every year on that day the Doge, on board a sumptuous processional boat called the Bucintoro, was to throw a ring, the symbol of the city's power and dominion over the sea, into the waters in front of the Church of San Nicol on the Lido.

Today the feast-day continues with a similar ceremony: the Mayor, accompanied by the highest civil authorities and by the Patriarch of Venice, boards the Bucintoro from the San Marco quay at about 10 a.m.
The water procession consisting of historical boats and boats belonging to the Venetian sporting associations, is escorted by naval vessels and military landing craft and makes its way slowly towards the waters in front of the Church of San Nicol on the Lido. Here, after being blessed, the auspicious ring is thrown into the waves. High Mass follows in the church. In the afternoon the festivities continue with two Venetian rowing races and other side events such as a concert of classical music, period costume parades, theatre performances and the Sensa Fair.

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The Redentore Feast-day, one of the oldest Venetian popular festivities, is celebrated every year during the third weekend in July: continuing a rite which has been repeated for 400 years, this festivity, the best loved and most deeply felt by the Venetians, sees hundreds of boats gather in St. Mark's Basin to await and admire the midnight fireworks.

The story goes that, after three years of a terrible epidemic, Doge Sebastiano Venier fulfilled the vow (made by his predecessor Alvise Mocenigo) to build a temple of thanksgiving to the Redeemer on the Giudecca island.
The commission for the work went to Palladio who laid the first stone in 1579: the church was then consecrated in 1592. On 21 July 1578, on the place where it had been decided to erect the temple, an altar with tabernacle was built in the open air and in four days a bridge consisting of 80 galleys was laid across the Giudecca Canal.
A huge crowd of Venetians, who had survived the terrible epidemic, crossed it in the knowledge that bereavements and misfortunes were over.
When the temple was built, the Doge decreed that the third Sunday in July should be set aside for pilgrimage.
Very soon the people, afraid of not finding room at the ceremony, would arrive at the Giudecca the evening before and spend the whole night there to then await the sunrise on the Lido.

Despite the fact that more than four centuries have passed since it began, the Redentore Feast-day continues to be held in the same places and with the same procedures. The city is united to the Giudecca by a bridge which crosses the Giudecca Canal and is mounted on modern floating platforms.

The character of the popular festivity has remained unchanged: the Venetians are the real protagonists with their exquisitely prepared boats, with roof terraces, balconies and squares illuminated by thousands of lights: about 1,500 boats gather in St. Mark's Basin while it can be said that 30,000 people watch events from boats and from canal banks.

The festivity reaches its climax towards midnight with fireworks that are set off from pontoons spread along a 400 meter stretch between St. Mark's Basin and the Giudecca Canal. Since 1978 they have been accompanied by music and are unanimously considered to be among the most spectacular in the world. Once the fireworks are over, the boats head for the Lido where, in keeping with tradition, their occupants await the sunrise.

On the other hand Sunday is devoted to religious celebrations of thanksgiving, attended by all the civil and religious authorities, and to sporting contests: a regatta for the young on pupparini (fast boats once used for maritime surveillance) and a champions' regatta on two-oared gondolas.

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The rowing races are preceded by a magnificent historical procession consisting of splendid, elaborately carved boats complete with hundreds of figures in gorgeous brocade costumes.

The water procession re-evokes the triumphant welcome accorded by the Serenissima to the Queen of Cyprus, Caterina Cornaro, who had "donated" her kingdom to Venice in 1489.
The historical procession is followed by the boats representing the city's various rowing associations (about sixty).

For the occasion the Department of Tourism sets up the Machina (a grandstand of honour for the authorities) near Ca' Foscari where, for centuries, the Venetian regattas have finished.

There are four actual races (each one on special boats): the first is reserved for the Very Young, the second for Women, the third for male crews (on 6-oared caorline) while the fourth constitutes the high spot of the event, that is to say it sees the famous rowing champions compete on gondolini which are a sporting development of the gondola and are only used in the city's major rowing contest.

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The Madonna della Salute, celebrated every year on 21 November, is the festivity which is still a choral expression of the city's religious spirit; the Venetians' festivity which remembers that irreplaceable possession that is good health, understood both in the physical and spiritual sense.

It recalls one of the most virulent plague epidemics in modern times and how the Doge, when all remedies seemed to no avail, made a solemn vow to build a church dedicated to the Virgin, to be named Santa Maria della Salute. As the epidemic diminished, construction began on the church designed by Baldassarre Longhena.
A few decades later Francesco Morosini brought from Candia the painting of a Madonna dating from 1200 which, by decree of the Senate on 21 November 1670, was set on the high altar.
From that 21 November the Madonna was known as the Madonna della Salute (Our Lady of Good Health). Since then the votive visit to the church is held annually on this date.

As in the case of other religious feast-days, a fair very soon sprang up next to the church in the square in front and street vendors prospered by selling pevarini, zaleti, bussolai and above all the candles to take into the church during the traditional visit of devotion and thanksgiving.
In the evening, at home or in the osterie, another old tradition: a hot and delicious-smelling castradina, a soup made of dried salted mutton, cooked several times with cabbage leaves.

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April 25th is the feast of St. Marcus, the city's patron saint.

In ancient times on this day a famous procession took place in the Piazza; religious and civil authorities as well as a deputy of artists took part in it.
Also nowadays St. Marcus Day is celebrated with a procession in the Basilica.

There is a hugely widespread tradition among Venetian men on this day: the gift of a bocolo, that is a red rosebud to the women they love best.

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This event originated 32 years ago with the aim of making Venetians aware of the problem of swell created by engine-powered boats, thanks to the initiative of a group of Venetians who were lovers of rowing and of the traditions of the Serenissima.

Since then the number of participant, especially from aboard, has continued to grow, with entries totalling up to 1500 boats.

The success of this events not only encourage the creation of rowing clubs but also stimulated the then dying crafts of boats restoration and construction.

Participation in the Vogalonga, a non-competitive event, is also an opportunity for everyone to rediscover the lagoon, its landscape and its habitat.

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A yearly boat race between the four Italian Maritime Republics that sailed the seas in medieval times in hosted, in turn, on the Mediterranean at Amalfi and Genoa, on the Arno in Pisa and on the lagoon in Venice, to commemorate the historical figures and memories of the four cities.

The spectacular event is preceded by a great historical pageant of 400 boaters with participants in period costumes: flags and festoons, trumpets and drums, horses and sedan chairs add glamour to the solemn procession.

Then the race begins: four boats, called galleons, represent the four seafaring Republics. Each is marked by different colours and figureheads: deep blue with a winged horse for Amalfi; white with a wined dragon for Genoa; crimson with an eagle for Pisa; and emerald green with the St. Marks lion for Venice.
They compete in a two thousand-metre race, each crew bearing their Republics colours.

The feast ends with the awarding of the trophy, a medieval galleon, which is held for one year by the city whose team won the Regatta and then is returned and offered again as the prize in the following years Regatta.

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Hystory of Venice

Curiosity about Venice
History of Venice Curiosity about Venice

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