The Regata Storica in Venice

Historic parade and competitive regattas to re-enact the past of Venice


The Venice Regata Storica traditionally takes place on the first Sunday in September along the most famous and enchanting canal in Venice – the Grand Canal – and in 2012 it will be held on Sunday September 2nd.

The Regata Storica is one of the events in Venice with the highest following, a highly enchanting happening which every year sees the participation of thousands of tourists and spectators and is also very popular amongst the inhabitants of Venice who have given it a place of honour amongst the numerous events that take place.

The Historical Regatta in Venice is followed by many different boats and spectators who flock to the shores of the San Marco Basin and the Canal Grande and watch it with passion and enthusiasm.

The Regata Storica is comprised of two separate moments: the historic parade and the competitive regattas, the latter representing some of the most important rowing events in Venice.

The Regata Storica
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Before the much awaited regattas of Venetian rowing, the Venice Regata Storica begins with the fascinating historic parade with numerous boats rowing on the Grand Canal to re-enact the glorious past of the Venice Republic. Amongst a thousand colours and costumed extras, the doge, the doge’s wife and the highest magistrate officers of the ancient Venice Republic come back to life to show the splendour and wealth of Venice’s glorious era.

The Venice historic parade re-enacts the water parade organized in 1489 to celebrate the return to Venice of Caterina Cornaro. A member of one of the most powerful families in Venice, Caterina was given in marriage to the king of Cyprus. She soon became queen following the premature death of her husband but was forced to abdicate allowing Venice to rein over Cyprus.

The Historic Parade comprises of the Bissone (boats adorned with precious materials called bissi), the Bucentaur and the boats of the Venice Society of Venetian Rowing which parade from St Mark Basin to the Constitution Bridge, better known as Calatrava Bridge. After covering the entire length of the Grand Canal, they return to the arrival point of the regattas, opposite Ca’ Foscari.

There is no certain information on the beginning of the regatta tradition in Venice. The earliest historic accounts date back to middle of the 13th century but it is likely that this kind of rowing was already practiced for entertainment during free time or as a form of training for crews. It also seems that public authorities in Venice supported this activity as it contributed to preparing crews for sea battles.

The term regatta appears for the first time in an anonymous manuscript of the 13th century, whilst the first representation dates from the 16th century within a section of the famous Venice Veduta by Jacopo de Barbari, which depicts a competition of a small number of boats with the writing “regatta”. From that moment regattas became one of the preferred themes by vedute painters when painting a celebration in Venice.

Besides the time-honoured regatta on the 'Festa della Marie', regattas in Venice were held during major events, such as anniversaries, victories or to honour illustrious guests, with increasingly sumptuous celebrations to the point that they became a source of pride for Venice.

Until 1631, regattas in Venice were called on by the Compagnie della Calza – young nobles who were appointed to organize celebrations and events in Venice during the 15th and 16th century. Later on the organization of regattas became the exclusive competence of the Venice Republic until its fall, when they acquired a simply celebrative and symbolic role.

In 1866, with the annexation to the Kingdom of Italy, regattas were organized to celebrate the glorious past of the Venice Republic, but it was only in 1899 that the Regatta Storica in Venezia eventually acquired its present-day name following a suggestion by the count Filippo Grimani, Mayor of Venice.

Nowadays, besides the historic parade, one of the most important rowing events in Venice also takes place on the first Sunday in September: the regattas of Venetian rowing.

With over 120 regattas throughout the year, occurring mainly between April and September, rowing events celebrate the strong bond between Venice and the sea and treasure the essence of Venice with sport, tradition and a sense of identity.

The regattas of Venetian rowing taking place during the historical regatta in Venice (Italy) are divided in categories according to the type and period of the boats:

  • The first regatta on Grand Canal is for young rowers on two-oars pupparini – boats with a slender prow and suited to test the Venetian rowing abilities of young hopefuls;
  • The women’s regatta in mascarete is next – light two-oar boats once used by masked prostitutes;
  • The third regatta on Grand Canal involves six-oar boats called caorline, once used for fishing or the transport of fruit and vegetables from the mainland to Venice;
  • The most awaited for regatta is that of the rowing champions on two-oar gondolini, a gondola-like boat but with a lighter structure, ideally poised to heighten the technical qualities of the competitors.

All the regattas take place along the same route: from the Riva degli Schiavoni, where they are lined up and secured with a thin rope called spagheto, boats enter the Grand Canal at the Punta della Salute and row down to the rounding of the mark, called paleto, opposite the Venice Santa Lucia train station, where they head back along the Canal Grande to the finish line next to the machina at Ca’ Foscari.

Whilst the length of the route varies slightly depending on the category, the arrival is the same for all boats and opposite the imposing floating stage next to Ca’ Foscari, where the award winning ceremony and prize giving take place.

The Historical Regatta in Venice is one of the most awaited for and participated Venice events, a moment when past and present are combined in a timeless atmosphere. On this extraordinary day, the ancient traditions of Venice are brought back to life and intertwined with the most important rowing event of the city.

By Insidecom Editorial Staff