This week the Venetian lagoon is buzzing with activity, due to two historic maritime events that take place during this period every year. Last weekend the city celebrated the Festa della Sensa – one of Venice’s best-loved festivals that originally took place on the day of Christ’s Ascension (‘Sensa’ in the local dialect), commemorating two important anniversaries in the life of the Venetian Republic.
The first event took place on 9th May 1000 AD, when Doge Pietro Orseolo II defeated the Slavic pirates who were threatening the region of Dalmatia.
The second occurred in 1177, when Doge Sebastiano Ziani negotiated a peace treaty in St Mark’s Basilica between Pope Alexander III and Frederick Barbarossa, marking the end of a centuries-old dispute between the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy.
As a token of his thanks, Pope Alexander gave the doge a blessed ring to symbolise Venice’s dominion over the seas.
From then on, every year on the day of the Ascension, the doge would travel out into the lagoon in his state barge – the Bucintoro – and having been blessed by the Bishop of Venice, he would throw a gold ring into the water as symbol of the marriage between Venice and the sea.
Today, the Festa della Sensa is celebrated with a weekend of special events including a colourful water parade that sees hundreds of traditional rowing boats journeying from the St Mark’s Basin to the Lido. Headed by the magnificent “Serenissima” vessel – which carries the Venetian mayor and other officials – the parade involves the reenactment of the “Marriage to the Sea” ceremony, and culminates in a High Mass in the church of San Nicolò. One of the most picturesque and historically significant traditions in the Venetian calendar, we recommend marking your diaries for next year’s festival, which will take place on Sunday 10th May 2018.
But if you can’t wait that long, you could always consider a last-minute trip to Venice next weekend, to witness another of Venice’s maritime marvels – the Vogalonga Regatta, which takes place on Sunday 4th June. Established in 1974 by a group of passionate Venetians who were determined to keep the tradition of Venetian-style rowing (voga alla veneta) alive, the event has become one of the most popular events in the Venetian year, involving thousands of amateur rowers and paddlers who take part in a non-competitive 30 km course from Venice to Burano and back.
PLUS: DON’T MISS – PADIGLIONE NAVALE AT THE ARSENALE
For a chance to see some of Venice’s historic boats at close quarters, head to the Padiglione Navale – a little-known museum in one of the Arsenale’s old warehouses that contains a superb collection of Venetian vessels. As well as gondolas, rowing boats and fishing tugs, you’ll discover a WW2 torpedo motorboat and a funeral barge that used to carry the coffins of Arsenale workers. The piece de resistance, however, is the majestic eighteen-oar ‘royal vessel’ that was built in the Arsenale in 1850 and used to transport King Vittorio II to St Mark’s during his first visit to Venice.
For more information about La Festa della Sensa, visit http://events.veneziaunica.it/it/festa-sensa-venezia-2017
For more information about Vogalonga, visit http://www.vogalonga.com/en/
For more information about the Padiglione Navale, visit http://www.visitmuve.it/it/musei/museo-storico-navale-padiglione-delle-navi/