Festa delle Marie, or the Feast of the Marys, is the opening event of the Venice Carnival. It is a celebration and a beauty contest, perfectly integrated into the history of Venice. It takes place annually on February 2, the day of the Purification of Mary. Learn about the history of this cherished event and how you can become a part of it.
This Venice tradition goes back to 943. All couples ready to get married within a year came for a blessing to San Pietro di Castello. On this occasion, twelve girls from poor Venice families became lucky. The chosen girls received jewels from the Doge and an impressive dowry from the high-class Venetian families. In 946, a group of Dalmatian pirates kidnapped the girls. The Doge immediately started the search, and the liberators found the pirates, killed them, and freed the brides.
To thank them for their noble deed, the Doge granted them a request. They asked for the celebration to take place at Santa Maria Formosa to thank the Virgin Mary for her help. However, with time, the festival lost its popularity. In 1343, instead of the twelve girls, there were twelve wooden figures. The Venetian people didn’t appreciate such change, so in 1379 the town canceled the tradition. But, in 1999, thanks to Italian journalist Bruno Tosi, the festival emerged with a new and exciting twist.
Today the festival is one of the most exciting annual Venice events. Hundreds of people dress up in historical costumes. They parade from San Pietro di Castello to St Mark’s Square passing Garibaldi and Riva degli Schiavoni. These are some of the best-known streets in the city. You can always create a route with our Venice map and know what to expect. At St Mark’s Square, the twelve Venetian girls, aged 18 to 28, await as per tradition. The one lady chosen among others gets the title and a special treat. She will participate in the Flight of the Angel from St Mark’s Bell Tower. It’s a fun way to explore the city and connect with the local culture.
San Pietro is one of the most famous Venice churches. You can get here by vaporetto and get off at a stop called San Pietro di Castello. Or you can cross the San Pietro Bridge and get to Olivolo island on foot. Be sure to check our Venice map and plan the best route. And remember, Venice gets crowded during Festa delle Marie festivities. In February, the weather in Venice is cool (5 degrees Celsius on average) but perfect for such an event.
There are many fun things to see and do in Castello and San Marco. You can see the Arsenale and the Naval History Museum and visit the world-famous St Mark’s Basilica. There are a few other Venice churches nearby. And how about visiting some of the best Venice attractions? Remember to explore the Doge’s Palace and Museo Correr, a must-see among Venice museums. After that, head to the Bridge of Sighs for a photo.