Festa della Sensa
Traditional Festival in Venice
The Festa della Sensa (Feast of the Ascension), which takes place in Venice on May every year makes tourists relive the age-old history of the Serenissima Republic and its intimate relationship with the Sea, as well as the customs and traditions of Venetian Rowing.
This celebration takes place every year on Ascension Day, in May, and boasts ancient origins. It celebrates two Venetian victories occurred at a distance of centuries one from the other. The first victory dates from year 1000 when Doge Pietro Orseolo II decided to leave, precisely on Ascension Day, to defend Dalmatian towns which, a few years before, had asked Venice for help against the repeated Croat and Narentan invasions. In return they promised they would join the Republic. Once the enemies were defeated, the Adriatic became free and safer to the Venetians. For this reason the Council decreed that this event would be celebrated every year on Ascension Day (“il giorno della Sensa” in the Venetian dialect).
It started as a simple and modest celebration until, in 1177, the Doge Sebastiano Ziani hosted in the Basilica di San Marco the highest authorities of the time: Pope Alexander III e Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and managed to make them sign a peace agreement. This event gave new prestige and solemnity to the celebration. In return for its services, the Pope confirmed Venice’s control of the sea through the solemn yearly “Sposalizio” (marriage) on Ascension Day. On that occasion, the Doge would board the state barge Bucintoro and, followed by a fleet of galleys (“galere”), “peatoni” and many other boats, he left the Bacino di San Marco (St Mark’s Basin), sailed the Canale di S.Marco, and reached S. Elena up to San Pietro di Castello where he was awaited by the Bishop, ready to bless him from a boat with a golden parapet. In order to underline Venice’s dominion over the sea, the celebration would reach its climax with a sort of propitiatory rite: once the Doge reached the harbour mouth, he would throw a gold ring into the water. The ceremony ended in the Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale) with a solemn banquet which saw the presence of Admirals, Taskmasters, Magistrates and Ambassadors. On occasion of this celebration, a fair took place in Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square). It lasted 15 days and wood porches were built to accommodate shops. This celebration is still celebrated although, admittedly, with much less magnificence. On Ascension Day, the mayor still reaches the harbour mouth on board of the Small Bucintoro used during the Regata Storica flanked by the Venetian oar societies and throws into the lagoon the gold ring that stands for the alliance between Venice and the Sea.