The Festa delle Marie is a celebration but also a competition held on New Year's Eve in Venice. This festivity was finally suppressed in 1379, only to be revived and given a modern twist.
The feast is held on 2 February, the day of the Purification of Mary, when noble couples who were to be married in the year were blessed. This took place in the city's first cathedral, San Pietro in Castello, on the island of Olivolo.
Initially, the feast was intended for social cohesion and to increase marriages, especially among the nobility. Today, it is in its own right a joyous festival, which, thanks to the efforts of its creator Bruno Tosi, has become a reality as a beauty contest, but perfectly integrated into the town's history. In fact, the winner is also the one who will be chosen for the 'flight of the angel' from St Mark's Bell Tower the following year. The festivities involve the awarding of the title of winner to one of the 12 participating maidens, aged between 18 and 28 and resident in Venice.
This festival then evokes not only Venetian traditions but also history. In fact, in 844 AD, or perhaps 948, under Doge Pietro Tradonico or Pietro III Candiano, while celebrations were taking place in San Pietro di Castello, a group of Dalmatian pirates kidnapped maidens and some riches. These riches were precious stones, the maidens' dowry. I pirati non solo puntavano alle ricchezze ma anche ad impossessarsi delle ragazze per venderle ai mercanti degli harem mussulmani. La popolazione insieme al Doge inseguirono i pirati riuscendo a liberare le fanciulle vicino Caorle dove oggi si trova il Porto di Santa Margherita. Questa zona viene ancora chiamata “porto delle donzelle” in ricordo del salvataggio. To celebrate the rescue, it was decided to establish the Festa delle Marie in thanksgiving for the intercession of the Virgin Mary.
Find out more details on the Festa delle Marie here.