Venice, December 13th, 2021 – The story begins in Venice, and the ancient art of building boats is its main character. An art that has guaranteed Venice a dominant position for centuries, and an art that the Serenissima Republic had passed through generations.
Venetians were the hands that built them in 1955. The four original galleons for the Palio of the Ancient Maritime Republics – that will take place on Sunday, December 19th in Genoa – were designed and built by Giovanni Giuponi, recalling the figure of the ancient galleys. Made in wood by Giuponi, from the Cooperativa Gondolieri di Venezia (Venice Gondoliers Cooperative), were launched on June 9th, 1956, along the Riva dei Giardini Reali. An essential moment for Venice with the boat blessing by the Patriarch of Venice, Angelo Roncalli who, after two years, was elected as Pope Giovanni XXIII. The boats cost 3.566.000 lire, and the rows 8.000 lire each.
Giuponi had been the owner of a tiny boatyard, located along the rio del ponte piccolo, on Giudecca Island until his death in 1987, at 91 years old. Here, “Nino” used to work as a “squerariolo” (boat builder) according to the ancient methods and traditions. He could build boats of every shape and size. Nino squerariol – as he used to be called – was an experimenter in this field, able to develop and apply new technical solutions and new materials, without leaving aside the tradition learnt in his youth. In 1985, he decided to write a detailed manual describing the different stages that characterised the construction of a gondola, interrupting the tradition of teaching the methods and the knowledge from father to son and from master to worker. Giuponi began to work in 1920, learning this art from his father, in the boatyard of l’Arzere all’Angelo Raffaele. From 1951 to 1965, he used to work first at the dockyard in rio de le Toreselle – which doesn’t exist anymore –, later at the Ognissanti and eventually at the San Trovaso dockyard as site manager of the Cooperativa Daniele Manin (Daniele Manin Cooperative). At the end of his career, he decided to work at his own dockyard in Giudecca Island. Throughout his career, he had built every kind of boat: the “Disdotòna” at the Querini, a 18-oars boat, or the “Carpaccesca”, a gondola represented in Carpaccio’s paintings. Giuponi was the creator of the four galleons used for the Palio of the Ancient Maritime Republics. After that, in 1983, the ancient wooden boats were substituted with modern galleons in fibreglass.
Today as in the past, the boats that compete against each other host eight rowers and a helmsman and stand out in the colours and beautiful figureheads: the venetian lion, recalling the patron saint of the city, St. Mark; the winged horse of Amalfi; the dragon of Genoa, who recalls the patron saint, St. George; the eagle of Pisa, representing the ancient bond between the Republic and the Holy Roman Empire. The figurehead that will cross the finish line first, will win the trophy in gold and silver made by the Florentine Goldsmith School, representing a galleon supported by four hippocampus and the crests of the Four Republics. The trophy will be held by the winning city for one year and could be won again the following year.
The Palio of the Ancient Maritime Republics will take place under the eye of the President of the Italian Republic. Every year, it is hosted in one of the four cities that participate in the competition. The Regatta is usually preceded by an historical parade where people wearing traditional costumes and representing different historical characters of each republic, parade.
Venice is represented by Caterina Cornaro, the queen that donated Cyprus to the Republica Serenissima and returned to her mainland as the “favourite venetian daughter”. The huge standard opens the venetian parade followed by two noblemen, six trumpeters and four drummers. Later, a group of eight noblemen held a flag of Saint Mark’s which dates to 1177, when Pope Alessandro III gave them to Venice as a sign of the recognized authority and dominion of the Republic on Saint Mark’s. Once the noblemen pass, it’s time for the Senators of the Serenissima, with an assistant carrying a red velvet pillow upon which a headgear of the Doge lies. The Doge, wearing a tunic and a long red and gold cloak, also has the typical ducal horn on his head. Four ambassadors from the East and eight ladies follow Caterina Cornaro, who is carried by eight slaves. The sovereign is joined by six members of the Cypriot delegation. The parade is closed by a “sea captain” who controls over some armed slaves.