Venice, 4th January 2022 – To see them is a rare event, as tells the story. In Venice, the Three Wise Men are represented with statues marking the 12 hours from Saint Mark’s bell tower: a slow parade that began in the 1500s and that has been included in the celebrations for the 1600 years of the city of Venice. To admire the work of art that announces the Epiphany, people have to be in Saint Mark’s Square twice a year: at 12 o'clock on January 6th or on the Ascension Day, looking up and watching one of the most famous architectural signs of the city. The tower, with its huge astronomical clock, is a masterpiece that, since the 1500s, has marked the life, the history, and the passing of time.
There are wooden mechanical statues, such as an angel playing the trumpets and the Three Wise Men, moving mechanically through a semi-circular platform placed above the dial. Statues come out from the hour panel, passing in front of the Virgin with the Child and going back inside the Tower through the side panel of minutes, which is placed on the opposite side of the clock. These are not the original statues that were built 1499, but just copies, that date back to 1755 made by Giobatta Alviero.
In 1499, the Bell Tower, the Three Wise Men and the angel with the trumpets were made to come out at any hour from the loggia on the second floor, and parade in front of the Virgin with the baby. Nevertheless, the delicate complexity of the mechanism and its exploitation led to limit the frequency of the Three Wise Men parade. Once the new machine was created, and the device of the parade Bartolomeo Ferracina was developed, the Three Wise Men were placed back by means of the same mechanism used today, on the occasion of the Epiphany and the Ascension Day.
At the time of the Serenissima Republic, the time of the year between Christmas and the Epiphany did not mark the beginning of a new year. Actually, the new year began on March 1st, according to the ancient Roman calendar. Until 1797, in the Venetian State territories, the calculation of days in the calendar was made according to the venetian use (“More Veneto '' venetians used to say). Moreover, dates used to be shortened with capital letters “MV”. On the day of the Epiphany, the Doge used to participate in the religious ceremony of Saint Mark’s. Outside the Basilica, children gathered, waiting to join the parade towards San Zaccaria, where nuns used to open the doors of the monastery providing children with sweets, marzipan and donuts. A tradition that never has got lost but that has adjusted to modern times: in the 1600s and in the 1700s, shops used to be filled with sweets, fruit baskets, food and toys. They say that patricians used to love this tradition. As a matter of fact, the Labia family of the San Geremia contrada was the first one that thought about donating toys, sweets and fruit to children. After that, the Contarini’s, the Michiel’s, the Mocenigo’s, the Piovene’s and the Pisani’s followed their example, carrying on with the city’s tradition.
Epiphany in Venice is also represented by a special old lady: the Marantega, a name that comes from the Latin, meaning Mater Antiqua. Indeed, today they are known as the Befane Maranteghe, that every year, on January 6th row along the Grand Canal for the traditional Regatta organised by the Canottieri Bucintoro. Regatta that this year will reach its 43° edition. This is one of the most awaited events in the city. The competition will see 5 men facing each other, wearing traditional costumes, each one of them in their own mascareta (typical boat) with their broom.