The Festa della Sensa re-enacts aspects of the history of the Republic, its intimate relationship with the Sea and Venetian Rowing practice. It takes place in May and is the first important water festival of the year.
Traditionally, the “Festa della Sensa” or “Ascension of Christ”, was a feast day for the Republic of Venice (“Sensa” in the Venetian dialect means “Ascension”). It also commemorated two significant dates in the Republic’s history.
Included in this festival, was the ceremony of the “Marriage of the Sea” (Italian: Sposalizio del Mare); with the traditional role historically executed by the Doge.
Today, Venice celebrates with a water parade of traditional rowing boats, led by the Mayor in the “Serenissima” boat; from the St Mark’s Basin to the Lido. This is followed by the ceremonial “Marriage of the Sea” and the rowing competition.
It’s a fun and exciting “get together” for Venetians, whilst recalling the city’s history and rowing traditions.
The Return of the Bucentaur to the Molo on Ascension Day, 1730) by Canaletto (1697–1768).
The Fèsta de ƚa Sènsa was a feast of the Republic of Venice, held on the occasion of the feast of the Ascension (in the Venetian language, Sensa) and still celebrated today.
It commemorated two significant dates in the Republic’s history as well as a celebration of the relationship of Venice to the sea:
- The first being May 9, 1000, when the Doge Pietro II Orseolo rescued the denizens of Dalmatia imperiled by the Slavs. This marked the start of the expansion and the dominant maritime power of La Serenissima, in the Adriatic Sea.
- The second event commemorated took place in 1177 when the Doge Sebastiano Ziani, Pope Alexander III and the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa agreed to the Treaty of Venice, signed in the San Marco Basilica. This Treaty ended the long-term dispute between the Papacy and its north Italian allies on the one hand and the Holy Roman Empire on the other. It determined the future political course of Italy.
- On the occasion of this festival was also held the ceremony of the Marriage of the Sea (It. Sposalizio del Mare). This ceremony is recreated annually with the Mayor of Venice taking on the traditional role which was historically executed by the Doge.
The “Serenissima” is impressive with its rowers and trumpeters dressed in historical uniforms.
(Note: this year the 2021 festival took place on May 13th. Date for 2022 – May 26 and for 2023 – May 18).
The Procession. The current celebration is a re-enactment of the historical procession, in which the Mayor takes on the traditional role of the Doge. The “Serenissima” boat, replacing the “Bucintoro” (destroyed during the Napoleonic period); leads the procession finishing at the Lido. It is escorted by hundreds of boats from the various rowing associations of Venice.
The procession starts in the Bacino di San Marco, between the Palazzo Ducale, San Giorgio Maggiore and Punta della Dogana. The boats start arriving from about 8.30am onward, with the number of rowers per boat varying from 1 to 18; all very colourfully attired. The “Serenissima” is impressive with its rowers and trumpeters dressed in historical uniforms. The large number of rowers radiate a large feeling of solidarity, as well as pride about their city.
Around 9.30 am, the officials, such as the Mayor and the Patriarch, board the Serenissima. The trumpeters start to play and all boats salute by raising their oars, as a solemn sign of respect.
The procession sails close to the Riva degli Schiavoni and the Riva dei Sette Martiri, so there is no problem watching from the Riva embankments.
Before crossing the lagoon, the procession continues to the “Scuola Navale Militare Francesco Morosini” (military school) at Sant’Elena. After saluting the officers, it sails to the fort on the Sant’Andrea island. The infantry, dressed in historical uniform, raises the flag on top of the tower and fires off a volley. In response, the rowers salute with the oars. During the entire procession, the trumpeters of the Serenissima play from time to time.
Finally, around 10.30 am, it’s time for the symbolic “Wedding Ceremony” in front of the San Nicolò church in Lido; where the Mayor recites his official statement and the Patriarch gives his blessing. After the launch in the water of a green wreath, the Mayer then throws a metal ring which symbolises the golden wedding ring. Many people watch this ceremony from the bridge and the Riviera S. Nicolò on the Lido. The officials then disembark the Serenissima, to listen to the choir and to attend the ceremony at the church of San Nicolò.
Left: The Wedding Ceremony. The Mayor of Venice tosses the blessed ring into the sea, close to the Lido.
The programme ends with the Venetian rowing competition from the San Marco basin to the Lido. Champions battle during a long race to win a coveted “bandiera” (a coloured flag); the Venetian equivalent to medals.
A variety of minor events and plenty of celebrating, take place on the Lido.
The feast is also an opportunity to celebrate “Adriatic Twinning”, when the Serenissima is united to a city or geographical area that had a special relationship with it, in the past. They may have been linked culturally by a mutual love of the sea, or activities connected to it. It is also an opportunity for awarding the “Osella d’Oro della Sensa” prize, to organisations and private citizens, who culturally, commercially, or through craftsmanship; have brought prestige to the city. These ceremonies occur on Saturday, the day before the main events.
Information in English about the Festival, can be found at “VENEZIA UNICA” – Official City of Venice Tourist and Travel Information: HERE
Please see my other posts in the category of “Festivals-regattas-Events”: HERE
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