The Festa della Sensa is one of the most famous Venetian celebrations. It takes places every year on the Ascension Day (“sensa” meaning “ascension” in Venetian dialect) and is really ancient because it was established around the year 1000. The point was to remember the trip of the Doge Pietro II Orseolo who went to fight the Slavic pirates on the Adriatic and who freed the populations of Dalmatia.
The Maritime Republic also commemorated another event: the 1177 meeting in Venice between the Emperor Barbarossa and the Pope Alexander III which put to an end the old arguments between Empire and Papacy.
The most important moment of the day was the “Sposalizio del Mare” (literally the “Weeding of the Sea”). The Doge and the Venetian patricians aboard the Bucintoro ship approached by sea the church of San Niccolò, the sailors’ patron saint. The Republic’s great official galley was obviously followed by hundreds of little boats forming a parade.
Arrived there, the Doge prayed for the seamen to always sail on a calm sea. Some holy water was then poured in the ocean and the Doge let a golden ring fall in the lagoon while saying “We marry you, sea. In sign of true and perpetual domination.”
Abandoned for a long time, the Festa della Sensa took place again in Venice in 1965. It now occurs the first Sunday after the Ascension Day and is nowadays presided over by the Mayor. Unfortunately, the last Bucintoro ship was destroyed in 1798 by the French occupiers but a reconstruction project began a few years ago. Today, the Venetian authorities travel on a boat named the “Serenissima”.
A mass is performed in the church of San Niccolò after the ceremony and is followed by the Mercatino della Sensa where old, second hand or collection objects are sold. There are numerous other events but the most striking are the Venetian rowing races. This way of sailing is really unusual because the oarsmen are standing towards the prow and use only one oar. It can be really laborious but this manner developed during the centuries as the best way to sail on the lagoon and on the Venetian canals.
The Festa della Sensa is also a moment to celebrate the Gemellagio Adriatico. Founded in 1994, this event gathers each year more cities linked in the past to Venice and which share the love of the Serenissima for the sea. Finally, the award “Premio Osella d’Oro della Sensa” is given to institutions, companies or citizens who contributed in a special way to the celebrity of Venice.
See you then on the 31 May and the 1 June in Venice!
For more information, visit our website About-Venice.
This post is also available in: Italian