The Historical Regatta of Venice, or the Venetian Regata Storica, is traditionally held on the first weekend of September each year. A riotous pageant of colour, the regatta takes place along the most famous canal in the city, the Grand Canal. The event is one of the most popular in Venice with both visitors and locals following it. Every year, the regatta sees thousands of tourists attend as spectators, but the event is very much a participatory one. Many of the inhabitants of Venice take part and plenty of people from outside of the city get involved, too. The regatta consists of two separate events. The first one is a parade of historical crafts, often with crews, gondolas and boats dressed up in traditional 16th century Venetian costumes, in which the Doge, his wife and the highest offices of the Venetian judiciary are carried up the Grand Canal, commemorating the welcome given to the wife of the King of Cyprus by Venice’s population in 1489. This event recaptures the moment when she chose to renounce her throne in favour of a life in the city and serves as a reminder of Venice’s past strength as a maritime republic. Following this water parade, competitive events take over when teams row their boats in a series of exciting races which run from Saint Mark’s Bay all the way down the Grand Canal.
The Best Time to Come
The Historical Regatta in Venice is a busy event with the main activities taking place on the first Sunday in September. At this time, it is advisable to book your accommodation and to be prepared for many tourists, even by Venice’s standards. However, if you want to see some of the boats that will take part in less crowded conditions, come on the Thursday before the main event when the official presentation of the regatta teams and the blessing ceremony for the boats take place at the Campo della Salute. Alternatively, there is also now a regular prologue to the main regatta held the previous weekend which sees some of the rowing teams race in the Darsena Novissima of the Arsenale.
Good Vantage Points
Given the large numbers of crowds you might expect, it is inevitable that you will have to squeeze in among other sight seers. This has been the way since the locals were first documented as having organised a rowing race in their city in 1274. To view the start of the regatta’s races, head to the area around Sant’Elena gardens. From the viewpoints close to Santa Lucia railway station, by the Grand Canal, you can see the paleto or turning point. This is where rowers must change direction rapidly. It is a pylon placed in the middle of the Grand Canal, making for an exciting spot to watch the races at their height. Alternatively, head to the Ca’ Foscari where the finishing line and presentation stage can be viewed.
The Regatta Races
Blending past and present, the races are no mere re-enactment of bygone years and are taken seriously by the participants. The first race on Venice’s waterways is for junior competitors who are split into three categories – under tens, under twelves and under fourteens. The youngsters need to master boats with a narrow prow that fully test the skills of the next generation of regatta goers. Following that race, the women’s regatta takes place. Women row light, twin-oared boats. The next contest is run on six-oared boats called caorline which are traditional vessels that were once used for transporting goods as well as fishing. After that is the most anticipated event, when the rowing champions race on on twin-oared gondolini. These boats are similar in appearance to Venice’s gondolas but have a much lighter structure, meaning that they are ideal for racing in and for demonstrating the full range of technical abilities of the competitors. Especially created for the Regatta, they first took part in it in 1825 and are still regarded as the best vessels for the top boatmen to race in. Given that they are over ten metres long, only the most highly skilled racers are able to control them fully.
A wonderful time to visit Venice, the Historical Regatta is a true highlight of the Venetian sporting calendar and offers fun for all ages with plenty to marvel at and to cheer on.