Venice, 31st August 2021 - On Sunday, 5th September the Venice Historical Regatta will be held. It is one of the oldest events that take place in the city centre and, this year, will acquire a specific importance as we celebrate Venice 1600 years.
A competition that originally took place among fishermen who, after a night spent working, tried to win the race towards the market of Rialto, to sell their fishes at the highest price. They tried to win the race with their boats, especially designed to support the “voga alla veneta”, a typically venetian way to row which involves rowers who, in that circumstance, used to overlook the bow that was headed towards the market.
It was only in the second half of the XII century that regattas, especially organized to celebrate religious festivals or important events, were held.
The first written proof of this competition among rowing boats - typical of the venetian lagoon – dates back to the 1274, and claimed that “Splendor magnificissime Urbis Venetorum, die 16 septembris” is “indicta regatta cum navigiis habentibus remos viginti". So, the Repubblica Serenissima, already in the XIII century, supported and promoted sports events where venetians power and sailing ability were celebrated.
It was in 1315 that the Senate began to regulate the competition, connecting the playful aspect of the race to the event of the Festa delle Maria, creating a unique show that proudly witnessed the richness of one of the most influential and powerful Marine Republics of the Mediterranean.
The famous View of Venice (also known as de’ Barbari Map) of the 1500s is one of the first images of the Regatta, which originally used to take place along the canal that stretches between Lido and San Mark’s square by means of rowing boats.
Although after the fall of the Repubblica Serenissima in 1797 Venice went through a difficult time – the French and Austrian occupation, not to mention two World Wars – the Historical Regatta remained an event that Venetians wanted to maintain and actually managed to preserve until the present days.
The first “modern” Regatta took place in 1841, although a different number of boats with different colours were used in this edition. From that year on, the event will be fully financed by public institutions. Moreover, from 1841 the competition gained characteristics that it has maintained throughout centuries until the present days. Indeed, it used to be organized by the municipality of Venice under the control of the Austrian authorities. This was considered as a competition to be carried out along the Grand Canal to encourage gondolieres to preserve the honour of their praised abilities.
Throughout the whole 19th century until the beginning of the 20th, there was not a specific date in which the Regatta along the Grand Canal was held. Therefore, it used to be celebrate together with important events as in 1856, for the visit of the of the Emperor of Austria-Hungary Francesco Giuseppe and his wife Sissi, or as in 1866 when the Veneto was included within the Italian Kingdom or again, in 1892 when Biennale was open for the first time.
It was in 1899, when the third edition of the Biennale Internazionale d’Arte was held, that the Mayor Filippo Grimani poposed to provide the Regatta with the adjective “Historical”.
From 1922 the Historical Regatta takes place every year and it is organized by the Municipality of Venice. The Regatta was only suspended in 1939 and 1946 as a consequence to the war, although in 1942, during the conflict, it took place anyway and was used as a background in a scene of the “Canal Grande” by Cesco Baseggio, which was set in the 19th century.
The traditional regatta is exclusively carried out by men on board of the gondolini. Throughout years, several competitions have been added to the main one: the one involving the Caorline, a six-raws boat (since 1951); the one of the Giovanissimi (the youngsters, since 1976); the one of the women (since 1977, although already in 1953 and 1954 two competitions were carried out). After the qualification sessions, which take place throughout the year, nine boats compete to win the “flags”: the winners get the red ones, the runners-up get the white ones, the third ones get the green flags while the fourth ones get the light blue flags.
The crucial stages of the race are several. First, the “spagheto” (string) stretched at the start in front of Sant’Elena; the “paleto”, a pole set in the middle of the Grand Canal in front of Santa Lucia railway station where, traditionally, the winners will be announced. Moreover, there is the “macchina”, a floating structure which is laid on an anchored barge, located in front of Cà Foscari. This structure, fully decorated with golden carvings, is the place in which the winners will be welcomed with prizes and flags.
The historical parade, included after the second world war, opens the competition. It recalls the arrival in Venice of the queen of Cyprus, Caterina Cornaro, who renounced the throne and marked the inclusion of its island within the Serenissima. The parade includes dozens of typical 1500s coloured boats, in which gondoliers wearing original costumes row to transport the Doge and Caterina Cornaro, in addition to other members of the Venetian judiciary. The parade is a truly faithful historical representation of the glorious past of Venice, one of the most powerful and influential Marine Republics of the Mediterranean.