Iris takes us to her beloved Venice and offers us an insight into one of the most famous feasts of the city. Enjoy a virtual tour through the gondoliers, boats and cracking fireworks!
By Iris Pase / 15.7.2017
One thing that really makes me proud to be European is that Europe’s past still lives on in today’s life. No matter which European country you’re visiting, you can tell that we’re walking in our ancestors’ footsteps, that our national identities were shaped by centuries of history and so was our culture. Italy, for instance, incarnates this archetype perfectly by the continued presence of ancient traditions in contemporary feasts: take, for example, the Festa del Redentore in Venice, whose name could be translated with the Feast of the Most Holy Redeemer. Held annually on the third Sunday of July, the Festa del Redentore is considered, and thus eagerly awaited, as one of the greatest events of the city both by tourists and Venetians.
Before venturing into the details of this year’s celebrations, let’s explore the dark and grim origins of this otherwise joyful and lively festivity. Back in 1575 Venice was haunted by the worst phantom of them all: the plague, a cruel reaper which reduced the Venetian population by a third and took more than 50,000 lives, including that of the great painter Titian. This deadly pestilence finally ended two years later: joy and relief overwhelmed the population and the Doge promised to build a magnificent church to thank God for having listened to their prayers and having freed Venice from the plague. Known today as the Church of the Redentore, it was designed by Andrea Palladio and built on the island of the Giudecca, just in front of Punta della Dogana. Since in 1577 only the foundation stone had been laid, a small wooden church was temporarily built along with the arrangement of a bridge of barges so that the Doge could have a procession: that year was the beginning of a tradition which saw him starting his pilgrimage from the Zattere to the Redentore Church, walking on a bridge of boats.
Why are these historical details so important? It’s simple: today’s celebrations aren’t that different from the original ones and knowing the reason behind this feast allows us to broaden both our perspective and knowledge on the matter.
This year the Festa del Redentore will take place on the night between the 15th and the 16th July. Firstly boats will be decorated with flowers and balloons, then the Church of Redentore will be linked to the other parts of Venice by a bridge of boats, which will be blessed by the Patriarch of Venice, thus reenacting the original event. In the evening, St. Mark’s basin will be invaded by the decorated boats, on which people will have an aperitivo, dinner, drinks and a lot of fun while waiting for the fireworks. Usually set off at 11.30, they offer an unforgettable experience to the bystanders: just try and think about hundreds of shapes and colours displayed against the exceptional background of St. Mark, the Salute and the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, just to mention a few. Fireworks usually last up to one hour, after that you can head to Lido and wait for dawn while enjoying the seaside.
The next day is dedicated to religious celebrations (it’s a religious feast after all!) and to the three regattas, a challenge among local historical boats which concludes the feast.
Final advice: if you don’t want to be squeezed among crowds of tourists, avoid St. Mark’s Square. I’d head to Lido, Island of Sant’Elena or Punta della Dogana (on the side of the Magazzini del Sale). Good luck and have fun!