The Festa della Sensa, a tradition lasting a 1000 years

Venice. Sunday 17th May 2015. Numerous typical Venetian boats of all forms, colors and sizes gather in front of San Marco to celebrate this special day together with the „Serenissima“, the Venetians and the visitors.

Apart from the Regata Storica, it’s (with its tradition lasting thousand years) one of the oldest spectacles in Venice: the Festa della Sensa. On the day of the Sensa (Venetian expression for the „Ascension Day“) the Venetians celebrate the historic sposalizio del mare („Marriage of the Sea“) to commemorate the victory of the Venetian fleet over Dalmatia under the command of the doge Pietro Orseolo II in 999.

This event represented a very important victory for Venice as the upper part of the Adriatic Sea was thus free of piracy and thus Venice the sole ruler over the sea. The Republic of Venice decided to commemorate this victory every year on the day of the Sensa by blessing the sea (the doge and the patriarch) near the port of the Lido. Later on, in 1177, the pope Alexander II gave a golden ring to the doge Sebastiano Zani to recognize (and thank him for) his help in the peace negotiations with the German emperor Frederick Barbarossa and recognized with this gesture the suzerainty of Venice over the sea. This day represented the official beginning of the Venetian tradition of the sposalizio, the mystical union of Venice with the sea.

Venezia: Festa della Sensa 2015 - Barche a San Nicolò di Lido
Venezia: Festa della Sensa 2015 – Barche a San Nicolò di Lido

The festivities were spectacular: The doge boarded the Bucintoro (the governmental galley that, unfortunately, was destroyed; but you can see a model in the Museum of Naval History) with his whole entourage and started the procession to the Lido. The tradition envisaged to stop at Sant’Elena to receive the homage of the local monks and to continue afterwards to the Lido, where the patriarch boarded the Bucintoro with the ecclesiastical dignitaries.

Once arrived in front of the Fort of Sant’Andrea, the patriarch casted some blessed water into the sea and the doge, for his part, let a golden ring fall into the sea reciting the following words

„Ti sposiamo, o mare, in segno di eterno dominio!”

“We marry you, o Sea, as a sign of eternal domination!”

(Maybe I should consider to do some diving there in the surroundings to try to find some rings – let’s see, 1000 years and 1000 rings …)

The last sposalizio took place in 1796 before the fall of the Republic of Venice under the reign of the doge Ludovico Manin; today, the Venetians commemorate the Sensa (on the first Sunday after the Ascension) with a corteo acqueo („procession by boat“) starting from the Bacino di San Marco and arriving at the Lido where a symbolic ring is thrown into the Sea near the Church of San Nicolò di Lido. (cf. Brusegan, Scarsella, Vittoria (2007): Guida insolita di Venezia)

Venezia: Festa della Sensa 2015 - Coro Serenissima
Venezia: Festa della Sensa 2015 – Coro Serenissima

Tiny side events during the festivities of the Sensa are the markets Mercatino della Sensa near the Church of San Nicolò, the voga alla veneta (a regatta) etc. You find more details below or on the website