The Venice Carnival (JANUARY/MARCH)
The Venice Carnival is one of the most famous, and possibly the most picturesque, carnivals in the world, boasting truly ancient origins. Historical sources date the festival to the end of the 11th century. The Carnival’s most illustrious period was undoubtedly in the 16th century during which lavish celebrations took place. However, even today, the most notable century of the Carnival remains the 18th century. The Carnival has always had an important social value as it removed any prejudice relating to social class, religion or sex. All differences between people were swept aside as they protected their true identity behind a mask thus giving “the people” the opportunity to make fun of noblemen and the powerful without fear of harsh reprisal. Traditionally, the central hub of the Venice Carnival celebrations is Piazza San Marco itself. The Carnival opens with the ritual Flight of the Angel (or Flight of the Dove) during which a girl, chosen beforehand by the Venetians, performs a spectacular descent, attached to a rope, towards the Doge’s Palace. The Carnival comes to an end at midnight on Shrove Tuesday with a magnificent firework display which lights up St Mark’s Basin and the entire lagoon. There are traditional Venice Carnival sweets to be sampled such as galani, frittelle (filled with creme patissiere, zabaglione and Venetian ones with raisins and pinenuts) and castagnole.
The Vogalonga of Venice (MAY)
One of the unmissable shows in Venice is the Vogalonga, a regatta formed as a protest against the motorboat backwash which threatens to destroy the Venetian lagoon. Indeed, for some time now, this has been one of the major public events in the Venetian calendar attracting rowers from all over the world. It combines respect for the environment and ecosystem with tradition. The origins of the Vogalonga date back to the 1970s when a group of friends came together for a mascarete regatta. It was at this first gathering that the idea of organising a major annual, non-competitive regatta devoted entirely to Venetian rowing, one of the city’s most steadfast traditions, was conceived. The Vogalonga’s aim has always been to raise awareness amongst the population of the danger posed by motorboats because of the swell and the damage it causes to the city. From the beginning, it was decided that the start of the Vogalonga should take place in St Mark’s Basin which is one of the central hubs of Venetian traffic. From there, the Vogalonga passes some of the most picturesque places in Venice and the lagoon including the islands of Murano and Burano. The total distance of the Vogalonga is about 30 km and only rowing boats can take part. Spectators can enjoy the spectacle of many different types of boat processing in religious silence in a city which is free, at least for this occasion, of noise pollution.
The Venice International Biennale Art Exhibition (JUNE/NOVEMBER)
The Venice Biennale is arguably the most important and prestigious art exhibition in the world. Every time it is staged, the strength of its creative spirit draws both leading artists, who take part voluntarily, allowing their work to be judged, and large numbers of visitors from all over the world. The Biennale was first staged in 1895 and, since then, every two years the most important contemporary artists have flocked to the festival stimulating debates, scandals and discussions as well as a great deal of inspiration. Many critics and journalists also take part in each Biennale. The aim of the Venice Biennale since its foundation has been to promote new global artistic trends. Since the end of the 1990s, both the Biennale of Art and the Biennale of Architecture have been based on three pillars and are no longer exclusively organised for national pavilions. There is the national pavilion, the international exhibition of the Curator of the Biennale and fringe events. This model has proved to be a winner as it has attracted large numbers of people. As a result, the exhibition space has had to be increased and there has been a major renovation of the Arsenale, where the exhibition is held. The Biennale has established itself as the leading contemporary art exhibition in the world and has managed to increase the number of countries participating in it from 59 in 1999 to 89 in 2015.
Festival of the Redeemer in Venice (JULY)
Every year, during the month of July, especially on the third Sunday of the month, a festival takes place in Venice which is very dear to the Venetians - the Festival of the Redeemer (Festa del Redentore). It is a very important festival for the Venetians and for tourists, to participate just for a day in an ancient but still very vibrant tradition, is a very moving experience. The origins of the festival lie in the 16th century at the end of a terrible plague which caused the death of more than a third of the city’s population in only two years. When the plague was declared to have been defeated, so great was the joy of the inhabitants of Venice that the Venetian Senate of that time decided to erect a temple to Christ the Redeemer to pay homage to for eternity. During the festival of the Redeemer, swinging walkways are arranged, floating structures in wood and steel, over 34 boats to support the bridge which, for two days, connects the Zattere pier to the island of Giudecca, allowing people to reach the Church of the Redeemer on foot. The fireworks at midnight are absolutely not to be missed as they light up the lagoon in a spectacular display. On the day itself, the Patriarch of Venice initiates the festival’s celebrations, after which the crowds of worshippers and tourists begin the procession towards the Giudecca.
The Venice International Film Festival (AUGUST / SEPTEMBER)
The Venice International Film Festival which takes place every year at the end of August and into the first few days of September, is certainly one of the most important events in the calendar of the lagoon city. During this period, Venice is transformed into a catwalk for international VIPs who flock to the Festival from all over the world and this magical city becomes the height of sophistication and chic. The International Film Festival takes place in the historic Palazzo del Cinema on the Lungomare Marconi on Venice’s Lido. It has the distinction of being the oldest film festival in the world having first been staged in August 1932. The award given to the winner of the Venice Film Festival is the Leone d’oro (the Golden Lion) which owes its name to Venice’s symbol which is the famous lion of St. Mark’s Basilica. The Leone d’oro is universally recognised as one of the most important awards in the film industry, especially by the critics. The Venice Film Festival has always attracted enthusiasts and onlookers from all over the world who come to the lagoon city in order to imbibe the unique atmosphere during this period in Venice.
The Historic Venice Regatta (SEPTEMBER)
To trace the first recorded accounts of rowing competitions, we have to go back to the middle of the 13th century. However, it is likely that Venice’s famous Historic Regatta dates back well before this as well trained oarsmen would have been a pre-requisite for the maritime city. Every year, this event attracts crowds of enthusiasts and people who are simply interested to see it from all over the world. The modern version of the regatta itself was first held in 1841 when, partly for economic reasons, the city hall took on the responsibility for organising boat competitions. In 1899, the then mayor of Venice suggested calling it the “historic” regatta and that remains its name to this day. The festival is a glorious array of traditional boats, figures in costume and, of course, the best rowers in the Venetian lagooon competing against each other. Traditionally, before the actual competitions, there is a historical procession which stretches along the Grand Canal, made up of typical 16th century boats which recall the glorious past of what was one of the most powerful maritime republics in the Mediterranean. Well worth watching is the regatta on gondolini (small gondolas) where the winners fly along the Grand Canal to the finishing line by the famous “machina”, a spectacular floating platform located in front of the Ca’Foscari.
Venice Marathon (OCTOBER)
The Venice Marathon, which takes place every year usually on the fourth Sunday of October, is an unmissable event for both amateur and professional sportspeople. The most important feature of the Venice Marathon is its 42.195 km route which passes through a richly charming area. The full marathon is recognised globally by the I.A.A.F and has been awarded a Bronze Label. It starts in Stra, in the “Riviera del Brenta”, with its magnificent villas and finishes in Venice, crossing the Ponte delle Barche, to Piazza San Marco, the Bell Tower and the Doge’s Palace. The 10k race is run in the the most picturesque ten kilometres in the world and takes place using the last ten kilometres of the Venice Marathon route. This competition gives those who take part the chance to experience close up the extraordinary charm of the lagoon city. An important element of the Venice Marathon is its strong support for charity and, to this end, there is a Venicemarathon Charity Programme which has the celebrity endorsement of the paralympic athlete, Alex Zanardi. A Family Run event is also held, which is an event where non competitive races are organised in various localities in the surrounding area to involve families in a fun-filled atmosphere. In the days running up to the Venice Marathon, a sport and leisure fair, Exposport, is held in the San Giuliano Park in Mestre.
Festa della Madonna della Salute (21st NOVEMBER)
The Festa della Salute (the Feast of Good Health), takes place in Venice every year on the 21st November and is a deeply spiritual event which many Venetians take part in. This event dates back to the terrible plague of 1630-31 and to the vow made by the then Doge to obtain the intercession of the Virgin Mary for the grace. Worshippers go to the imposing Chiesa della Salute to pay homage to the Virgin Mary in front of the main altar. A temporary votive bridge on boats is constructed specially for the Festa della Madonna della Salute. It joins the zone of San Moisè and Santa Maria del Giglio in the Sestriere of San Marco with the Basilica del Longhena in the Sestriere of Dorsoduro, allowing the procession of those participating in the festival to cross the Grand Canal. A long, uninterrupted line of people can be seen crossing the votive bridge to give thanks to the Virgin Mary and to light candles to ask for the grace of good health. The Festa della Madonna della Salute is the perfect moment for the faithful to celebrate the sacrament of penitence to purify the spirit. There are many confessors present who have been given the authority in perpetuity by the Patriarch to absolve certain sins. Tourists can also enjoy the stalls of sweets, toys and a range of merchandise on display on the stands which are set up around the outside of the church.