For many centuries, in May, Venice has been celebrating the Feast of the Ascension (Festa della Sensa) with a beautiful ceremony called The Marriage of the Sea (Sposalizio del Mare). The festival goes back to the days of the Venetian Republic, La Serenissima, and commemorate two historical events.
In the year 1000, on May 9, the fleets dispatched by Doge Pietro II conquered Dalmatia defeating the Croatian and Narentine pirates that had been creating trouble for Venetian ships in the Adriatic. The second important event celebrated during the festivities took place in 1177 when Pope Alexander III and Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa signed the peace treaty ending a century-long discord.
The Marriage of the Sea ceremony started with a procession sailing out of the lagoon, from St. Mark’s to the Church of San Nicolò on the Lido. It was led by the Doge’s golden ceremonial barge called “Bucentaur” (“Bucintoro” in Italian), which was like an opulent floating palace, 35 metres long and 8 metres high, with 168 oarsmen. Historians say that La Serenissima built four Bucintoro boats with the last one being destroyed in 1798 by the Napoleon’s Army. Since then a more modest boat has been used for the ceremony, however, a project to build an exact replica of the last Bucintoro barge has been underway in Venice since 2008.
Nowadays, the procession is presided by the Patriach of Venice and the Mayor with various civic dignitaries and military representatives who are followed by many beautifully decorated gondolas from the various rowing associations. During the mass at San Nicolò a golden ring is blessed and tossed in the water by the Mayor as a symbol of the city’s close ties with the sea and its historic marine dominance.
After the procession a four-oared gondolas regatta is organized which draws a lot of spectators. A big market is set up near the Church of San Nicolò where visitors can sample some Venetian gastronomic delights and soak up the festive atmosphere.
Photos by: Wikimedia Commons, Angelo Greco.