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Venice’s Historical Regatta, September 2nd 2012

Venice regatta

The Regatta Storica is the highlight of Venice’s annual rowing calendar. This unique mode of transport has been used daily in Venice for thousands of years, and today, the magnificent historical water pageant involving the two teams of the Venetian Rowing Club, the Bissone and the Bucintoro, is world famous. The lagoon is plied by all kinds of water craft, typically 16th century-style boats with gondoliers in period costume, which carry the Doge, his wife, and the city’s highest ranking officials up the Grand Canal in a brightly coloured spectacle. The event commemorates the welcome of the wife of the King of Cyprus, Caterina Cornaro, who in 1489 renounced her throne in favour of Venice.

Boats in Canal Grande during the regatta Storica in Venice
The first event dates back to the middle of the 13th century, when it was part of the Festa delle Marie. Originally regattas were races between boatmen and gondoliers or the regate grandi. In 1797, the government added two races for its citizens, but today’s current regatta dates back to 1841. In that year the focus of the boat race along the Grand Canal was to encourage gondoliers to uphold the importance of their skills. Twenty five years later the focus of the event changed, instead of just a race, the regattas became a celebration of the history behind the Republic of Venice, and the race eventually became known as the “Regatta Storica”.

Today, following the parade there are four races. The most well known and exciting of these is the "Campioni su Gondolini", where a series of small, sporting gondolas sprint down the Grand Canal to the finish at the 'machina', a spectacular floating platform located in front of the Ca' Foscari palace.

Traditional boats during the regatta in Venice
The optimum position to view the event is from a boat in front of St. Marks Square in the Canal della Guidecca, from here you can watch as the regatta passes directly in front of your eyes. The races start at 5pm with a race for the young men in their one or two oared ‘pupparini’. This is followed by the Women’s race, in twin oared Mascarete, the six oared Caroline, and finally, the highlight of the regatta, the twin oared Gondolini race.

For those who cannot take to the lagoon in boats, the main points and stages are the Spagheto or rope which marks the starting line in front of the Sant’Elena gardens. Next comes the Paleto or turning post in the middle of the Grand Canal opposite the Santa Lucia railway station, a crucial point at which the winners traditionally take the lead. The machina, an elaborately carved, coloured floating pontoon moored in front of Ca’ Foscari is both the finishing line and the point where the cash prizes and pennants are presented.

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