When looking for things to do in Venice, the first Sunday of September marks the Venice Historical Regatta. This is one of the most colourful and spirited events that the City of Venice offers.

The most traditional among Venetian events, the Venice Historical Regatta, which was first celebrated in January 1315 under the rule of Doge Giovani Soranzo, is a twofold celebration. Not only was it designed to honour foreign dignitaries such as Queen of Cyprus Caterina Cornaro, who renounced her throne in the late 1400s in favour of Venice, the Historical Regatta was also designed to commemorate Italian military victories.

If you’re planning a trip to Venice the beginning of September, the Grand Canal comes alive this first Sunday of the month with an historical water parade and rowing boat races (regattas) which date back to the Serenissima rule over the Mediterranean Islands in the 13th Century. The water parade exemplifies the past economical and political superiority that was Venice, Italy. Initially, these regattas were comprised of competitions between boatmen and gondoliers.

As the Regatta tradition continued in Venice, by 1841 gondoliers were strongly encouraged to display their skills. Two decades later, the City of Venice slightly modified the Regatta’s theme to reflect the vast history of Venice. It thus became known as the Regatta Storica (history) and the races carried on.

Nowadays, the Historical Regatta of Venice (a/k/a Venezia Regatta Storica) begins with a colourful procession on the water formed by the Bissone and the Bucintoro, two premiere Venetian rowing clubs. Sightseers and residents alike may wish to become novice artists, if not photographers, whilst the boats reflect on the canal waters displayed in brilliant contrasts of water, sky and gorgeous historical buildings.

Suffice it to say the photos of Venice included here in no way properly serve the Regatta Storica – the event should be enjoyed live and in person!

At the start of the Regatta, the doge (mayor) of Venice and his wife, along with local dignitaries are carried in 16th-Century-style boats along the Grand Canal surrounded by gondoliers who are donned in colourful period costumes. Following the water parade, four boat races ensue at 5 p.m.. The best vantage point for viewing the events is in a boat from St. Mark’s Square in the Canal della Guidecca.

For land spectators, consider watching the Regatta Storica from the Sant’ Elena Gardens, or from the Riva degli Schiavoni, which is the starting point for the races. Another excellent vantage point is opposite the Santa Lucia Railway Station on the Grand Canal where Regatta winners often times strategically take the lead. Punta della Salute is where the public waits impatiently for the first boat entering the Grand Canal.

Yet another area in which to view the Historical Regatta of Venice is in front of Ca’ Foscari which represents the finish line for the first race, the Youngster Rowers. This race features promising young rowers who are challenged by very technical, two-oar boats.

Next is the women’s regatta. The women row light, two-oared boats that are replicas of those used long ago by Italian courtesans. These boats are referred to as mascarete for which the name originates from the boat’s nose as it resembles a mask, the buata.

The third Regatta takes place in heavy, six-oared boats (caorlines) traditionally rowed by men. These are no longer used in Venice, but when they were, sails were attached to the boats as they traversed though the Grand Canal.

Finally, the highlight of the Historical Regatta of Venice commences with the championship races in two-oared, lightweight boats called gondolini which are very thin gondolas. The most technically apt rowers (the champions) compete during this final race of the Historical Regatta of Venice. The winners are awarded red flags, while second, third and fourth place winners are presented white, green and blue flags, respectively.

A one-day treat, the Historical Regatta of Venice can make for a perfect day trip to Venice, or scheduled around an early autumn visit to the great city. One thing for certain, the Regatta Storica should not be overlooked when planning a trip to Venice for actively observing the best of tradition and competition!