Venice’s Festa della Sensa Celebrates the Maritime Power of La Serenissima

Thu, 05/30/2019 - 05:43

Venice will be celebrating one of its most fascinating festivals this weekend, the Festa de la Sensa, an event  that goes back hundreds of years, to the times of the Republic of Venice. It commemorated two significant dates in the Republic's history: the first, May 9, 1000, refers to when the Doge Pietro II Orseolo rescued the denizens of Dalmatia imperiled by the Slavs, and, as a consequence, Venice began to expand its influence to the Adriatic; the second event took place in 1177, and refers to when the Doge Sebastiano Ziani, Pope Alexander III and the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa signed the Treaty of Venice, following Frederick's defeat at the Battle of Legnano in 1176, ending the long power struggle between the Pontificate and the Holy Roman Empire.

Part of the event was the ceremony known as the Marriage of the Sea (Sposalizio del Mare); it still takes place today, with the mayor of Venice taking on the role traditionally held by the Doge, while residents aboard boats of different sizes accompany the Mayor's boat to the Lido harbor where the Marriage of the Sea takes place. The Marriage of the Sea, established to commemorate the first aforementioned event, the Doge Pietro II Orseolo's conquest of Dalmatia, symbolized the maritime power of Venice.

Boat, Festa della Sensa

The Festa della Sensa was established on the day of the Ascension of Christ, which in the Venetian dialect is called Sensa.

A major highlight is the parade of the Venetian-style rowing regattas, a particular rowing technique developed in the Venice lagoon and neighboring areas, in which a single rower equipped with one or two oars is able to advance the boat. On Saturday, June 1 at 10 am, the Adriatic Twinning ceremony begins at 10 am, which will also see the cities of the Maritime Republics of Amalfi, Genoa and Pisa participate, the once powerful city-states that, from the 10th to the 13th centuries, based their power and wealth on their fleets of ships, which they used both for their own protection and to support extensive trade networks across the Mediterranean. On Sunday, the boat procession starts at 10:15 am and arrives an hour later at the Ceremony of the Marriage of the Sea; then at 12 is the Mass in the ancient church of San Nicolò.

The weekend’s schedule includes the Mercatino della Sensa, a market at the church of San Nicolò di Lido, located in the northern part of the Lido; it houses the relics of Saint Nicholas, patron of sailors (shared with Bari). The site where the church and annexed convent were built was strategic as it was a main point of access to the sea. The Treaty of Venice, one of the two events commemorated by the Festa della Sensa, was signed at the Lido.

Men rowing

The Festa della Sensa is for proud Venetians an important moment of gathering, especially during the rowing boat parade that goes from San Marco to the Lido. It is a moment of celebration of Venetian history, power and traditions, which also highlights the city’s important relationship with the sea. Indeed, during the Marriage with the Sea, a ring is thrown in the water, followed by the traditional thanksgiving mass of the Sposalizio del Mare (Marriage of the Sea).