It all started in 1576 when the senate voted to build a church dedicated to the Redeemer if Venice was freed from the plague. By that time the plague had killed a quarter of the city’s population and by the end of the winter the death toll stood around 50,000 people.
The Doge, head of the Republic, Alvise Mocenigo promised to build a majestic church on the island of Giudecca (across the channel from San Marco) to give thanks for the end of the plague. The architect was the now famous stone cutter, Palladio, born in nearby Padua whose style of architecture influenced many buildings around the world. Thomas Jefferson’s home in Monticello was built in the Palladian style. Before the church as we see it today was built, the Doge had a small temporary wooden church built and to celebrate the Venetians made a temporary bridge of barges from the Zattere which Doge Venier walked across to give thanks. Thus began a tradition of the Doge giving thanks at the Church of the Redeemer, Redentore, each and every year. The wooden barges bridge has given way to an elaborate pontoon structure known as Ponte Votivo, which requires days to complete and is only opened on Saturday afternoon before the festivities begin. Opening of the bridge is presided over by the Mayor of Venice, local priests and other officials. The bridge is high enough for the vaporetti and other local boats to go beneath in the center span, but not for cruise ships so a lot of scheduling is done to accommodate everyone. The bridge is in place through Sunday, the day of ceremonies in the church. This year it is reported there were over 2,000 boats, looking like the paintings of the battle of Lepanto (1571) once the fireworks start. Boats of every size from the small sandalo (a rowboat) to maxi luxury yachts all anchored between the islands in anticipation of the fireworks. Food and wine are the conversation of the day having spent the better part of a week preparing for this party.
The boats are laden with food for an army. It’s classic Venetian cuisine, cichetti: sarde in saor (sardines and onions in vinegar) and better for me, the gamberi in saor (shrimp); ‘Baccalà mantecato’ (reconstituted dried salted cod; and gallons of Prosecco (the famous white sparkling wine of the Veneto) along with Reds. And maybe a few bussolai (type of cookie) from Burano and a sweet desert wine to top it off or for the hardy, grappa (always good for the digestion). The conversation and banter among the boaters is light hearted and the lights of San Marco twinkle in the distance. All heads are tilted upward from the moment the first fireworks begins. Yes there are longer fireworks, larger fireworks, but they are not set in this magical place called Venice. Sitting in the boats the fireworks seem to come out to reach you. The booms reverberate against the ancient buildings. Laughter and cheers can be heard and the party doesn’t end until well after midnight. Then is it is real traffic jam in the canals trying to get back to home. So here’s to the end of the plague and let’s celebrate it every year! Watch our video of a few minutes of the fireworks from 2013 on our YouTube channel: CLICK HERE If you have the opportunity to visit Venice during this feast, do so. You can have a wonderful view from many spots around the islands. There are dinner parties in San Marco and in front of many hotels. But for the real Venetian experience, the boat is the place! See you next year!Google