A journey to Melara di Rovigo to discover the work of alchemists preparing fireworks for the Festa del Redentore

1 August 2022

Venice, July 10th , 2022 – In the so-called “triangle of entertainment” there is a factory where thousands of fireworks are created. Flower-shaped colourful fountains of fire that light up the sky of Venice and hypnotise people who stare at the sky for 40 minutes. A skyline of water, boats, and colours that melts, recalling once more the ancient Serenissima Republic. It is by the expert hands of fifty employees of the Parente Fireworks in Melara di Rovigo, that more than 6 thousand fireworks are prepared, the ones that will be shot in the air on July 16th on the “notte famosissima” (the most famous night), the most awaited venetian event promoted by the Municipality of Venice in partnership with Vela spa.

Here, everything is hand-made, and every step of the creation is carried out in different departments for safety reasons. A craftsmanship work which fully represents the Made in Italy, a guarantee of quality, care, attention and compliance with safety rules.

“We are venetians, and for us the Festa del Redentore is the most important event of the whole year. As such, every year we apply to the public tender – explains Antonio Parente, who runs the company with Davide and Claudio, his brothers -. We don’t want to spoil you the surprise by telling you how the show will be. We can just say that for this edition, colours representing Venice, such as gold, red and bright silver will light up the city”.

“A fireworks show lasting this long is almost impossible to find in any other town. The hardest part here is to keep the attention of the public high, avoiding boredom – said Parente –. This is why, every year, we try to improve our work, to change something and find a new spectacular effect”.

Until the first half of the twentieth century, the “foghi” (venetian dialect word to say fireworks) used to be shot in the air overlooking the Giudecca Canal, while between the ‘50s and ‘60s, fireworks were shot both from St. Mark’s basin and the Giudecca area, between Molino Stucky and Sacca Fisola. At that time, a second floating platform for shooting fireworks was added, and two were the companies that competed by shooting fireworks. Late in the 70s, fireworks were shot only from St. Mark’s basin and, in order to improve the beauty of the show, in 2008 the shooting area was enlarged, reaching 400 metres.

“Since 1988 we have joined several editions of the Redentore. Our choice to do so is due to the strong bond we have with this city. The Festa del Redentore is one of the most beautiful Italian traditions – explains Parente -. We also provide fireworks for international events, much bigger than the Redentore, but I can say that no city can compete with the beauty of Venice”.

The origins of the Parente Fireworks are rooted in the nineteenth century, when in Foggia, Romualdo Parente (the company’s founder) began to produce small fireworks shows for religious events. The factory was first established at the beginning of the 1900s and, after a short break caused by the first world war, Romualdo decided to continue its business together with his seven brothers. The Parente Fireworks became one of the biggest factories of fireworks located in the south of Italy, although later in the 1951 Antonio, Romualdo’s son, left the south to live in Melara where, helped by his two sons Augusto and Romualdo, he built what is now known as the Parente’s factory.

“The cylindrical firework is typical of the Italian fireworks tradition while the spherical one, which is the most used, comes from the Asian tradition – he explains -. China is indeed the biggest fireworks producer now, followed by Italy and Spain which instead provide fireworks of higher quality. The quality is very different, and you can tell a product is Italian or Spanish by its colour, brightness, and shades”. Products here are hand-made, everything is weighed and added according to ancient recipes that have been passed over by generations. Every colour is the product of different elements blended with patience and care, which then are shaped to become a light, noise, smoke, or tiny little pieces of paper in the sky.

In Melara everything is scheduled. There are laboratories where the black powder is produced. The Parente Fireworks is the only factory in the whole Europe that produces powder internally.

The black powder is made up of three different elements: carbon, potassium nitrate and sulphur. The carbon chosen is lighter since it is the one found in vine branches grinded in barrels and then powdered. Later, potassium nitrate and sulphur are added, together with a specific chemical glue. The final step of the process is related to the supervised drying of the product inside a different laboratory. Here, a specific air conditioner provides the loss of humidity in just 24 hours.

“We don’t use sunlight for this process, although we could save hours. The reason is simple: due to the high temperature reached on summer days, it could be dangerous to use sunlight to dry our products – explains. Using an air conditioner mechanism is safer”.

To produce fireworks, several are the delicate steps. Blending, mixing, producing the external part of fireworks, filling it with black powder and closing it with a chemical glue”. A process that has been repeating itself for centuries now.

“The production of fireworks has slightly changed over time, if we compare it to the process used by my great-grandfather a hundred years ago. Some steps have remained the same, while in the last 50 years what has really changed are materials – he tells. Products are now cleaner and more refined so they don't produce as much smoke as they used to do. Moreover, the shooting techniques have been improved and implemented with controlled automatic systems”

Every night, at sunset, in a specific area of the company, products are tested to ensure quality standards. For a few minutes every day, the sky of Melara is coloured with a sequence of fireworks.

“The Redentore is not an easy event to be organised – says Parente. First, we create the artistic project, and this generally can take two weeks. Then, there is the shipping process, which the uniqueness and fragility of Venice can make it very difficult to implement. Moreover, in Venice it is mandatory to stay below a specific limit of decibels of sound, and this requires specific adjustments . Last but not least, the issue of safety distance between boats. Indeed, the risk of boats crossing the limit of the show area is real, and for this reason, we have tried to implement the use of new technologies to help us prevent any incident, whereas safety measures are not guaranteed. We have been learning all this year after year, respecting our city”.

While waiting for fireworks to be shot in the air, in Venice everybody is getting ready. Lightings, traditional food and boats to celebrate the Festa del Redentore with people dancing and singing, respecting a tradition that marks the rebirth of a life without plague even today, 500 years later.