The Regata Storica of Venice, is an important annual traditional event; featuring an historic water pageant and boat racing competitions.

It is the main event in the annual “Voga alla Veneta“, rowing calendar and takes place every first Sunday of September and has always been extremely popular with both Venetians and visitors.

Scores of typically 16th century-style boats with gondoliers in period costume carry the Doge, his wife and all the highest ranking Venetian officials up the Grand Canal in a brightly coloured parade.  An unforgettable sight, it reconstructs the glorious past of one of most the powerful and influential Maritime Republics in the Mediterranean; followed by highly competitive small boat racing.

This post covers the historical background to the Regatta Storica of Venice, programming details and some advice on the best places to watch and enjoy the event.

 


 

 

HISTORY

The Regata Storica of Venice, has always been extremely popular with both Venetians and visitors alike.

The first historical record of the event dates back to the mid-13th century, when it was part of the “Festa delle Marie” celebrations. However, it is likely that some form of competitive boat racing existed long before this; as Venice has always been a seafaring city and training reserves of oarsmen was a prime necessity.

The first visual image of a regatta comes somewhat later, in the “View of Venice” drawn by Jacopo dé Barbari, in around 1500 (Photo Left). This map includes a detail of a group of boats with the word “regata” written at the side. From there onwards the regatta became a favourite subject with scene painters, wishing to capture the festive spirit of the city.

Over time, financing the regattas moved from the Republic, to private individuals; who were often foreign princes.

In 1797, when the Republic fell, the regattas carried on and in that same year; the city’s democratic government announced two races for its citizens.

The modern regatta dates back to 1841, when the organisational costs; moved back from the private to the public sphere. In that year, the Municipality of Venice requested the Austrian authorities to proclaim an “annual boat race along the Grand Canal”; organised by the local authorities “to encourage gondoliers to uphold the honour of their famed skills”.

Left: Canaletto, “La Regata sul Canal Grande”. In 1866, when Venice became part of the Kingdom of Italy, the focus of the event changed and instead of just any races; the regattas became a celebration of the glorious history of the Republic of Venice.

Despite this, it was not until 1899, the year of the 3rd International Biennale Art Exhibition; that this was officially recognised by Count Filippo Grimani, Mayor of Venice, who coined the name, “Regata Storica” (Historic Regatta)

 

HISTORICAL WATER PAGEANT

The Doge and his wife at the Regata Storica in Venice

The Doge and his wife at Rialto, during the Regata Storica in Venice

The water pageant commemorates the welcome given in 1489 to Caterina Cornaro, the wife of the King of Cyprus; who renounced her throne in favour of Venice.

Scores of typically 16th century-style boats, with gondoliers in period costume; carry the Doge, the Doge’s wife and all the highest ranking Venetian officials; up the Grand Canal in a brightly coloured parade. An unforgettable sight and a true reconstruction of the glorious past of one of the most powerful and influential Maritime Republics in the Mediterranean.

The “Serenissima” is one of the most beautiful parade ships of Venice and heads the parade during the Regata Storica. It represents the “Bucintoro“, which used to be the official state vessel of the Doge; with the first one being built in 1311. The last and most magnificent one, was constructed in 1729 for Doge Alvise III Sebastiano Mocenigo. The ship was 35 m long, more than 8 m high and it required 168 oarsmen and 40 sailors to sail it. Unfortunately, the ship was destroyed in 1798 by Napoleon.

 

The Fondazione Bucintoro, is rebuilding the  Bucintoro of 1729; which will then be used on major events such as the Regata Storica. Until it’s finished in a few more years, we will have to make do admiring the Serenissima.

( Note. The name “Bucintoro” is most likely thought to be derived from the Venetian word “burcio”; a traditional term for a lagoon vessel and “in oro”; meaning covered in gold).

THE RACES

NOTE. Don’t forget to pick up an official program at the tourist office at the San Marco square. It gives you all the timings, as well as information about the boats and the teams. The program keeps being updated, so if you want to be sure about the timing, I suggest you check the official website (below) before you leave.

The Venetian regata, has always consisted of various races with different kinds of boats. Originally these included galleys, peatoni, and barges; as well as lighter boats rowed by two or more oarsmen.

Today, there are races for children, women and men, however the main and most popular race is the “men’s gondolini regatta“.

  • The young rowers use “pupparini”, which are fast, agile boats with a wider stern.
  • The women use the light and shorter boat, “mascareta“.
  • The men race in a six-oared “caorlina” and for the main regata in a “gondolino“. This was designed and built exclusively for the Regata Storica and is lighter and faster than a gondola.

The participating boats do not only have a number, but since 1843; they are also painted in bright colours. This make it easy to recognise them from far away and makes the whole event even more festive. They are repainted a different colour every year, to avoid superstition that a certain colour would always be winning. Since the 1892 regatta, the colours have remained unchanged: white, brown, pink, light blue, green, purple, canary yellow, red, orange.

The number of gondolini racing, has changed several times. In 1841, the participating boats were 8; in 1843, it went to 7; from 1844 to 1856, it reached 9; from 1857 to 1874, it went down to 7; finally, since 1875, it has returned to 9.

If you want to read more about the different vessels, the official website of the Regata Storica (below); provides more detail on each of these. If you are intrigued by their rowing skills, you can always take rowing classes whilst in Venice!

Disnar – Celebratory banquet prior to the Regata.

The tradition was to invite all participants in the regatta and the relevant authorities to a banquet; that took place on the Thursday before the race.  The occasion was originally used by gondoliers, to ask the Mayor for amnesties and pardons, for any infringements committed during the year!

The newspaper “L’Adriatico” of June 28, 1912 gives a fitting historical description: “And since the beginning of the nineteenth century, lunches were offered in ancient times either by the Signoria or by private individuals to those who ran in the regattas, they took shape stable, which then passed into tradition and with the name of “disnar of the rowers” , were offered by the municipality to those who, after the race, were to become the heroes of the oar”.

Team presentation and blessing at the “Salute”.

The Thursday before the Regata Storica, gondolieri wait to receive their blessing at the Salute basilica.You can also attend the presentation of the teams and the “blessing of the gondolini” on the Thursday before . This is mainly attended by the locals, who come to cheer for their friends and family who were able to qualify for this race. This gives you a good opportunity to discover the teams and their respective colours; so you can select your favorite team for Sunday.

  • The young rowers and the women are presented on the stairs of the Santa Maria della Salute church.
  • The male rowers come with their gondolini, and are blessed while standing in the boats (photo left).

 

The main events of the Regata Storica take place on Sunday.

On the day of the “Regata Storica”, St Mark’s Basin and the Grand Canal, are packed with boats of every shape and size; filled with loudly cheering, local supporters. Originally, to clear the course of the race and to keep order, the regatta was preceded by a fleet of “bissone” (typical parade boats). Noblemen stood in the bows, armed with bows and terracotta shot (balote); which they used to pelt any particularly unruly spectators. Today, the bissone still head the procession, but they only have a ceremonial function.

The key points and stages in the regatta are the following:

  •   the spagheto: rope marking the starting line in front of the Sant’Elena gardens;
  •   the paleto: turning post driven into the middle of the Grand Canal in front of the Santa Lucia railway station, the point at which the winners traditionally take the lead;
  •   the machina: an elaborately carved, gaily coloured floating structure moored in front of Ca’ Foscari, that constitutes both the finishing line and the stage where the cash prizes and pennants are presented.

Pennants are the prize every Venetian rower dreams of: red for a winner, white for second place, green for third. The colours for the first 3 rowers correspond to the Italian flag. Before the founding of the unification of the Italian state, second place was light blue. Then there is blue for fourth place, (originally yellow and depicting a pig, an animal traditionally renowned for its slow, sluggish nature).

Historical note. The flag has always been the symbol of victory for rowers. Originally the flags, tied with a bag of money, were displayed in a rack at the edge of the “machina “(finishing stand) and had to be torn from the “proviere” or the stern; this custom lasted until the end of the 19th century.  

The brothers Rudy and Igor Vignotto hold the record with 19 bandieri, of which 10 red, 7 white, 1 green and 1 blue. If a rower wins the race 5 years in a row, he gets the title ‘Re del Remo’ (King of the Oar), a very honorable title in Venice. The last team to receive this honor goes back to 1983, when Palmiro Fongher and BGianfranco Vianello won for the 7th time. Sergio Tagliapietra ‘Ciaci’ and Giuseppe Fongher ‘Bepi’ hold the record with 8 consecutive wins from 1969 to 1976.

Note. You can find the list of all the winners since 1841 on the website of the Regata Storica below.

Mens gondolini race at the Regata Storica, VeniceWomen's gondolini race at the Regata Storica, Venice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHERE TO STAND?

As this is a major event, both celebrated by locals and by tourists, you should expect that it will be very crowded around the Canal Grande.  Many locals watch the event from their boat, so there will be plenty moored along the canal. Finding a good place to watch the whole event, is the only thing you have to worry about.

You also have to take into account that the vaporetto will be suspended in Canal Grande and the Bacino di San Marco for most of the afternoon. This implies that you will have to leave early (before 14.00), if you want to use these or that you will have to walk.

The organisation of the Regata Storica, sets up a floating stand on the Canal Grande near Campo San Vio. You can book your seat on their website. The price is 60 euros for a ticket (30 euros for under 18 and for Venetian residents).

One great place to stand is at the Punta della Dogana. You won’t see the finish, where it’s really crowded, but you will have a very good view as the historical parade and races; enters the narrower entrance to the Grand Canal. There is no bar nearby, so you might want to bring some refreshments along with you.

(Note. Pick up an official program at the tourist office at the Piazza San Marco. It gives you all the timings, as well as information about the boats and the teams. The program keeps being updated, so if you want to be sure about timings; check the official website below.

 

The Regata Storica in Venice from the Accademia Bridge.

 

PROGRAM FOR 2021 EVENTS

Please note: in light of any ongoing health emergency, the program may be subject to change. Please follow all updates on the web and social channels. 

  •  FRIDAY 28th AUGUST

Disnar per la Storica. Information about the 2021 edition at www.disnar.it

  • THURSDAY 2nd SEPTEMBER

Campo della Salute – Blessing of the gondolini

Presentation of the crews, blessing of the belts and of the boats. The ceremony is preceded by a water parade in Grand Canal: 5.00 pm gathering at Erbaria di Rialto, 5.30 pm departure of the parade from Rialto to the Salute church.

  •  SUNDAY 5th SEPTEMBER

From 4.00 pm. HISTORICAL AND SPORT WATER PAGEANT: parade along the Grand Canal by historical crafts with costumed crews, boats and gondolas of the Venetian rowing associations (Voga alla Veneta). Course: St. Mark’s Bay, Grand Canal, Rialto and return along the Grand Canal until Ca’ Foscari

 4.30 pm. Maciarele and Schie regatta: two oared regatta on mascarete dedicated to children.

Categories:

– Maciarele senior (under 14 years). Course: from Punta della Dogana to Ca’ Foscari 

– Schie (under 10 years). Course: from Rialto to Ca’ Foscari

– Maciarele Junior (under 12 years). Course: from San Stae to Ca’ Foscari

  4.50 pm. YOUNG ROWERS’ TWIN-OARED PUPPARINI REGATTA

Course: St. Mark’s Bay, Grand Canal, around the paleto in front of Ca’ Farsetti, to finish at Ca’ Foscari.

  5.10 pm. SIX-OARED CAORLINE REGATTA

Course: St. Mark’s Bay, Grand Canal, Rialto (around the paleto in front of San Marcuola), and back down the Grand Canal to finish at Ca’ Foscari.

 *After the passage of the Caorline (match for third place) and after the passage of gondolini (final); comes the International Universities Boat Challenge Challenge. Eight-oared galeoni boats by the crew of Ca’ Foscari and Iuav Universities of Venice, versus other university teams. Course: From Rialto to Ca’ Foscari

  5.40 pm. WOMEN’S TWIN-OARED MASCARETE REGATTA

Course: St. Mark’s Bay, Grand Canal, Rialto (around the paleto in front of San Marcuola), and back down the Grand Canal to finish at Ca’ Foscari.

  6.10 pm. TWIN-OARED GONDOLINI REGATTA

Course: St. Mark’s Bay, Grand Canal, Rialto (around the paleto in front of San Marcuola), and back down the Grand Canal to finish at Ca’ Foscari.

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Regata Storica di Venezia – Official Website (regatastoricavenezia.it): HERE

Back to the Blog Posts page: HERE

 

The Regata Storica of Venice    The Regata Storica of Venice    The Regata Storica of Venice

The Regata Storica of Venice    The Regata Storica of Venice    The Regata Storica of Venice


 

HISTORY

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