The Regata Storica is one of the most important traditional events in Venice. It takes place every first Sunday of September, which is this year on September 5, 2021. The event consists of 2 parts: a historical boat parade and a series of rowing races. In this post, I will first give you some historical background on the event. Afterwards, I will give you practical details about the program, as well as some insider tips to find the perfect place to watch it.
Regatas have been part of the Venetian life for a very long time. The first records go back to the 13th century, when a regata was organized for the Festa delle Marie. (Click here to read more about this Festa in my post ‘The insider’s guide to Carnevale di Venezia’).
The origins of the Regata Storica go back to 1841, when the Municipality of Venice asked the Austrian authorities to organize an annual boat race on Canal Grande. This would give the opportunity to encourage the gondoliers and honour their skills. In 1866, when Venice became part of Italy, the focus of the event shifted towards a celebration of the history of the Republic of Venice. In 1899, the name ‘Regata Storica’ was given by Count Filippo Grimani, the mayor of Venice. You can find the list of all the winners since 1841 on the website of the Regata Storica.
The 2021 program of the Regata Storica
Thursday September 2
18.00: Presentation of the teams and blessing of the gondolini (Campo della Salute)
Sunday September 5
The standard course of the parade and the races is from Bacino di San Marco along Canal Grande to Rialto, with finish at Ca’ Foscari. The timing below is the one of last year, but might be updated closer to the event date.
16.00: Historical parade
16.30: Maciarele and schie regata (for children) (Maciarele senior <14: from Punta della Dogana to Ca’ Foscari – Maciarele junior <12: from San Stae to Ca’ Foscari – Schie <10: from Rialto to Ca’ Foscari)
16.50: Young rowers’ twin-oared pupparini regata
17.10: Six-oared caorline regata
17.30: International Universities Boat Challenge: eight-oared galeoni boat by the crew of the Ca’ Foscari and Iuav University of Venice versus the teams of other universities (from Rialto to Ca’ Foscari)
17.40: Women’s twin-oared mascarete regata
18.10: Twin-oared gondolini regata
INSIDER TIP: Don’t forget to pick up an official program at the tourist office at the San Marco square. It gives you all the timings, as well as information about the boats and the teams. The program keeps being updated, so if you want to be sure about the timing, I suggest you check the official website before you leave.
Team presentation and blessing
The main events of the Regata Storica take place on Sunday. However, if you are around, you should also attend the presentation of the teams and the blessing of the gondolini on Thursday. This is mainly attended by the locals, who come to cheer for their friends and family who were able to qualify for this race. The young rowers and the women are presented on the stairs of the Santa Maria della Salute church. The male rowers come with their gondolini and are blessed while standing in the boats. This gives you a good opportunity to discover the teams and their respective colors, so you can select your favorite team for Sunday.
The historical parade
The brightly colored parade consists of tens of 16th century-style boats. The costumed rowers carry the Doge, the Doge’s wife and all the highest ranking Venetian officials up the Canal Grande. It commemorates the welcome of Caterina Cornaro in 1489, the wife of the King of Cyprus, who renounced her throne in favour of Venice.
The Serenissima is one of the most beautiful parade ships of Venice and heads the parade during the Regata Storica. It represents the Bucintoro, which used to be the official state vessel of the Doge, with the first one being built in 1311. The last and most magnificent one was constructed in 1729 for Doge Alvise III Sebastiano Mocenigo. The ship was 35 m long and more than 8 m high and it required 168 oarsmen and 40 sailors to sail it. Unfortunately, the ship was destroyed in 1798 by Napoleon. The Fondazione Bucintoro is rebuilding the 1729 Bucintoro, which will then be used on major events such as the Regata Storica. Until that’s finished in a few more years, we will have to admire the Serenissima.
DID YOU KNOW? The name Bucintoro is derived from the Venetian word ‘burcio’, a traditional term for a lagoon vessel, and ‘in oro’, meaning covered in gold. There are also other theories about the history of the name, but this one seems to make most sense.
The Venetian residents are mainly interested in the races that follow the parade. Each regata is sailed in a different traditional boat, depending on the age and the gender of the rowers. The young rowers use pupparini, which are fast, agile boats with a wider stern. The women use the light and shorter boat mascareta. The men race in a six-oared caorlina and for the main regata in a gondolino. This was designed and built exclusively for the Regata Storica and is lighter and faster than a gondola. If you want to read more about the different vessels, the website of the Regata Storica provides more detail on each of these. If you are intrigued by their rowing skills and you would like to follow a rowing class, you can read about my first experience in ‘Rowing is the ultimate local experience when visiting Venice‘.
The participating boats do not only have a number, but – since 1843 – they are also painted in bright colors. They are repainted every year to avoid superstition that a certain color would always be winning. The colors make it easy to recognize them from far away and makes the whole event even more festive.
The regata ‘bandieri’ (flags) are the prize every Venetian rower dreams of. The colors for the first 3 rowers correspond to the Italian flag: red for the winner, white for second place and green for third place. There is also a blue flag for the fourth team. The brothers Rudy and Igor Vignotto hold the record with 19 bandieri, of which 10 red, 7 white, 1 green and 1 blue. If a rower wins the race 5 years in a row, he gets the title ‘Re del Remo’ (King of the Oar), a very honorable title in Venice. The last team to receive this honor goes back to 1983, when Palmiro Fongher and Gianfranco Vianello won for the 7th time. Sergio Tagliapietra ‘Ciaci’ and Giuseppe Fongher ‘Bepi’ hold the record with 8 consecutive wins from 1969 to 1976.
Where should you be standing?
As this is a major event, both celebrated by locals and by tourists, you should expect that it will be very crowded around Canal Grande. Finding a good place to watch the whole event is the only thing you might have to worry about. Many locals watch the event from their boat, so there will be plenty moored along the canal. You also have to take into account that the vaporetto will be suspended in Canal Grande and the Bacino di San Marco for most of the afternoon. This implies that you will have to leave early (before 14.00) if you want to use these or that you will have to walk.
The organization of the Regata Storica sets up a floating stand on the Canal Grande near Campo San Vio. You can book your seat on their website. The price is 60 euros for a ticket (30 euros for under 18 and for Venetian residents).
I personally prefer to take a seat (on the ground) or to stand at the Punta della Dogana. You won’t see the finish of the races (where it’s really crowded) but you will have a very good view on the historical parade as well as on the regatas. We stood there last year and had a great time. It is also close to the Campo della Salute where you can listen to the live coverage via Radio Venezia. There was also a large choir singing on the stairs of the church, but I’m not sure if this will be the case again this year.
INSIDER TIP: There is no bar nearby, so you might want to bring some water (or something else) with you.
If you plan to attend the Regata Storica, you will have to stay in Venice until Monday. Most (European) flights take off late afternoon, so you won’t be able to catch these. There are however plenty of interesting exhibitions going on in this period or you can visit the 2021 Architecture Biennale.
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