About This Festival
When you think of Venice, Italy, you probably envision the Grand Canal filled with gondolas, a singing gondolier rowing you and the object of your affection along the watery route. In the case of Regata Storica, you wouldn’t be far off; just add elaborate 16th century-style gondolas helmed by costumed rowers, and move yourself and your sweetheart to the stands for a front-row seat at Venice’s most important boating event.
The Historical Regatta
Due to Venice’s geographical makeup, it’s easy to see why Venetians have a penchant for rowing. While the earliest record of the regatta dates back to the 13th century, it wasn’t until 1899, when Count Filippo Grimani, the Mayor of Venice at the time, gave the event the title of Regata Storica, “the Historical Regatta.”
The most important event on the rowing calendar in Venice, Regata Storica takes place on the first Sunday of September, annually. It is made up of four different races, with various types of boats. The race begins with the procession of bissone, a fleet of traditional parade boats. Originally, the bissone began the event for crowd-control purposes: noblemen armed with bows aboard the boats would shoot terracotta balote (shot) at any rowdy parade-goers, and clear the canal for the racers. Athough the bissone still signal the beginning of the regatta today, they are unarmed and serve only a ceremonial function.
A Day at the Races
The most popular race is that of the gondolini regatta, where two oarsmen per gondola race from the spagheto, or starting line, against dozens of other competitors to the finish line, or machina. Onlookers cheer the gondoliers on from the stands; the deciding moment of the race is when the rowers round the paleto, which is a turning post that stands in the middle of the Grand Canal and is usually the point in the race in which the winners take the lead. It’s at this juncture that you can expect the crowd to really go wild.
Another favorite moment in the regatta is the event that kicks it all off. 16th century-style boats, complete with gondoliers in full costume, parade the Doge, the Doge’s wife, and high-ranking Venetian officials (also all in period costumes) up the Grand Canal. It’s a colorful spectacle, to say the least, and a fairly accurate recreation of Venice’s storied maritime past.