Experience a century-old Venetian tradition by attending Festa della Sensa, one of the longest-running traditions in Venice's history. It's one of the most extravagant and colorful Venice annual events. It includes a procession, a regatta, fairs, and special dinners. Mark your calendars for May 21, 2023!
Festa della Sensa celebrates Venice’s connection to the sea and two historical events. The commercial dominance of Venice over the Adriatic Sea lasted for centuries. It seemed that the “marriage” between Venice and the sea would be one of the most enduring in history. That is why, every May, Venetians celebrate the Wedding of the Sea.
One of the historical events dates back to 997 when the Venetian navy defeated Slavic pirates terrorizing the coast. It started the tradition of celebrating Venice as the superpower of the Adriatic Sea. Another event happened in 1177 during the reign of Doge Sebastiano Ziani. Pope Alexander III and Emperor Federico Barbarossa met in Venice to sign the Venice Peace Treaty.
The ceremony of Festa della Sensa was a grand affair. Doge Pietro II Orseolo and other dignitaries boarded the Bucintoro, a colorful barge used for big Venetian ceremonies. They then sailed to Porto di San Nicolò in Lido, where the Doge threw a golden ring into the sea. It was a symbol of the eternal union between Venice and the Sea.
Festa della Sensa takes place every May, forty days after Easter. It’s an authentic and picturesque Venice event. The festival’s procession starts at St Mark’s Basin, between the Doge’s Palace, San Giorgio Maggiore, and Punta della Dogana. The mayor, dressed in a period costume of the Doge, sails to San Pietro di Castello. The bishop blesses the mayor as he throws the golden ring into the sea as per tradition. Then follows a Holy Mass at Chiesa di San Nicolò, one of the Venice churches.
Like many Venice annual events, Festa della Sensa features a regatta. In addition to the race, there is also a parade of traditional rowing boats. The Serenissima, a vessel carrying the mayor and other city officials, leads the way. The race includes participants on ships with two and four oars. They compete during the long race to win a bandiera, a colorful flag known as the Venetian medal equivalent.
At the time of the festival, visit the Venetian fair and open-air markets. You’ll discover a variety of local goods and fresh seasonal produce. Following the Italian custom, feel free to sample some fruit and vegetables and bargain for the best deal. For dinner, visit one of the local restaurants to taste traditional Venetian dishes. During the festival, most places serve Risi e bisi (rice and peas Venetian style) and castraure (artichokes).
The event starts in San Marco, the most famous Venice neighborhood. You’ll find the best Venice attractions here, including St Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace. You can watch the procession from Riva degli Schiavoni and indulge in some local shopping. Our Venice map can help you navigate the city better and plan the perfect route. Near the Basilica San Pietro di Castello, an essential part of the event, you’ll see the Arsenal. It is a former Venetian naval base and one of the main buildings for the Venice Biennale. For history buffs and curious visitors, the Naval History Museum is a must-visit spot nearby. Remember, Festa della Sensa is just one of the many exciting Venice annual events!