‘…Water flows through the veins of every Venetian, it’s a special kind of water, a mixture of fresh water from the mountains infused with sea water from the Adriatic, laced with salt, wind and determination….’
From April to September every year, Venetians celebrate their relationship with the waters of the lagoon with a series of regattas, where boats of every shape and size compete in a variety of races. Here in Venice rowing is the national sport. A type of rowing that involves great skill, balance and precision. Just like the gondoliers who steer their vessels whilst standing on the stern of the boat, so the rowers stand upright, taking each stroke carefully and accurately, synchronised to perfection with their fellow crew members.
THE REGATA STORICA (Historic Regatta) is my favourite rowing event of the season. It takes place on the first Sunday of September each year. In true Italian fashion it is preceded by a blessing of the boats and their crews at the Basilica of La Salute on the Thursday before the regatta. Rowing clubs from all corners of the lagoon enter teams for the different races. It’s a very competitive afternoon and there’s tremendous prestige for the winners. The top rowers are local celebrities, they appear on the front page of the newspapers and on local TV. But first they have to win their race and the races are not for the faint-hearted.
PAGEANT – The afternoon starts with a historical parade of boats all decked out in bright colours, with flags, pendants and banners. The crews are dressed in costumes from the 15th and 16th century. The parade is a tribute to the arrival of Caterina Cornaro in Venice in 1489. Caterina was the wife of the King of Cyprus. When her husband died the Venetian Republic were keen to get their hands on this important strategic territory in the eastern Mediterranean. They launched a charm offensive offering Caterina her own castle in Asolo, and a court filled with musicians, poets and artists, in exchange for unfettered access to the island of Cyprus. Caterina – a Venetian by birth – agreed. The Venetians patted themselves on the back. They’ve been shrewd and wily operators for centuries.
AFTER the charm and tradition of the parade the serious races begin. There’s the two oar regatta for the under 10s, under 12s and under 14s. These races take place in a ‘mascareta’ which is a light, flat-bottomed boat, similar to the ‘sandolo’ used in the lagoon by fishermen every day. The ‘mascerata’ is 6-8 metres in length.
RACE DAY – On any race day there’s always some teams that take to the water with more enthusiasm than others. I always smile when I see the two boys sitting, patiently, in their ‘mascareta’ directly below the balcony of the grand palazzo I was visiting. Their boat, Number 11 was soundly beaten later that afternoon. Shame, there’s always winners and losers. The event continued with 6-oar ‘caorline’ and 8-oar ‘galeoni’ each team desperate to bring honour to their rowing club. The ‘caorline’ is a sturdy vessel, originally a working boat, built for fishing and transporting fresh fruit and vegetables to the market. These heavy boats are usually crewed by the strongest and most muscular rowers.
REGATTA BLUES – This time next year I’ll be back in Venice for this wonderful event. I even know where I’ll be sitting. I’ll be on the terrace of the Sina Centurion Palace, sipping a glass of prosecco and clapping enthusiastically as the rowers pass by. It really is the perfect way to pass a September afternoon in Venice.
- The Regata Storica is organised by: www.regatastoricavenezia.it
- It is possible to meet rowing club members and visit the boat houses before/after the event.
- Caterina Cornaro did establish her court in Asolo – a charming hillside town north of Venice – making the Venetians very happy: Asolo – art, history, women, prosecco!
- For numerous articles on Venice, Veneto, Trieste, Alps, Basilicata, Sicilia: www.educated-traveller.com
- For exceptional travel experiences in Italy: www.grand-tourist.com
5th Sept, 2021