Francesca Zanatta
Article by Francesca Zanatta

The Adriatic, a ring, Venice and the Doge …

I, Venice, emerge elegantly from the waters of my beloved Adriatic sea.

Its waters envelop and protect me in a warm embrace, always making me feel safe. At times, its still and quiet waters become agitated and stormy, dragging the souls of my people into the deepest depths.
Its Dalmatian coasts are jagged and full of natural inlets, ideal shelters for the hideouts of the most ruthless pirates. It is not easy to live with my restless sea full of pitfalls which, at the same time, can give immense joys and riches.

Canaletto, “The Bucintoro Returning to the Molo on Ascension Day” 1730 c., oil on canvas, 182 x 259 cm, private collection

More than a thousand years have passed since my wedding with the Adriatic sea was celebrated on Ascension Day. A sumptuous ceremony, a procession in the sea with a parade of elegant boats of different shapes and sizes all decorated to celebrate the Bucintoro, State Galley, with the doge on board.

model of the Bucintoro
model of the Bucintoro

The first weddings were celebrated to commemorate the victory of my fleet led by Doge Pietro Orseolo II who, on the day of the Ascension of the year 1000, set sail from the waters of my basin to respond to a dramatic call for help from the Roman cities on the Dalmatian coast that were threatened by pirates. The Doge had returned victorious, thus establishing the new reality in the Adriatic: I, Venice, had become the undisputed Queen.

Our party became even more important when in 1177, I hosted Pope Alexander III and Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa to seal their reconciliation. The pope, as a sign of recognition, gave the Doge Sebastiano Ziani a golden ring to re-establish my sovereignty. It is from this moment that the age-old tradition of the “Marriage of the Sea” began on Ascension Day, called the “Festa della Sensa”.

My promise of love with the Adriatic is renewed every year by celebrating the Marriage of the sea officiated by the Doge and the patriarch.

Francesco Guardi, The Feast of Ascension, 61 x 91 cm, Fundacao Guilbenkian, Lisbon
Francesco Guardi, The Feast of Ascension, 61 x 91 cm, Fundacao Guilbenkian, Lisbon

It is a magnificent party, thousands of people take part and my streets are filled with a big crowd, acrobats, and storytellers. My square, Piazza San Marco, hosts a large market set up with wooden shops built around the square where you can buy products and delicacies of every kind and everywhere, it is a real international fair.

's waterbasin seen from the Riva degli Schiavoni
‘s waterbasin seen from the Riva degli Schiavoni

The Doge rises between the sound of trumpets and drum rollers on the Bucintoro moored on the pier, in front of Palazzo Ducale, accompanied by his followers: the ecclesiastical authorities, the foreign ambassadors present in the city, the leaders of the Council of Ten and other important personalities.

model of the Bucintoro
model of the Bucintoro

They uproot the anchors and make their way to the port of Lido, plowing the famous “going to the sea” and stopping briefly before the island of Sant’Elena to receive the homage of the monks of the convent and a second break near the Lido, to welcome the patriarch on board. They continue on their way to the mouth of the port of Lido and, in front of the Fort of Sant’Andrea, the patriarch pours holy water in the waters of my groom while the doge drops the gold ring into the water saying the words : “Desponsamus te, mare, in signum veri perpetique dominii ” – we marry you, o sea, as a sign of true and perpetual dominion.

La Festa della Sensa, an ancient festival over a thousand years old which celebrates Venice as the undisputed queen of the Adriatic sea on Ascension Day. A fabulous water procession of numerous boats of different shapes and sizes parades in the wide basin of San Marco.

St. Mark's basin seen from Riva Sette Martiri
St. Mark’s basin seen from Riva Sette Martiri

Francesca Zanatta