Festa di San Martino is one of the most exciting Venice annual events. On November 11, Venetians celebrate St Martin and the famous legend about him. Venetian children look forward to the festival as it's the Venetian alternative to Halloween. Let's dig in and explore what Festa di San Martino is all about.
Festa di San Martino celebrates Saint Martin. Why is he so special to Venetians? Martin was born in Pannonia, part of present-day Hungary, in 316. He and his father, a Roman officer, moved to Venice. Finally, Martin learned about Christianity by secretly attending a Christian assembly. In Venice, he's memorable for the construction of the monasteries and his time as bishop of Tours. Martin died on November 11, 397 AD, in Candes, and his remains are now in the Cathedral of Tours.
St Martin is famous for the story of compassion and kindness. On November 11, Martin was riding his horse when he saw an old man dying from the cold. He wanted to help but had neither money nor a blanket to give him. So Martin removed his sword, cut his cloak in half, and shared it with the man. Martin continued on his way with a heart full of joy. The weather suddenly improved, and the sun broke through the clouds. That night, Martin dreamt that Jesus thanked him for his compassionate gesture. The tradition has stayed, and Venetians refer to the warm days of November as St Martin's summer.
For Venetians, Festa di San Martino is a cherished event for a few reasons. One of them is the relics of the Saint brought to the San Martino Church. It is one of the Venice churches in the Castello district. The younger Venetians adore Festa di San Martino. Children walk the streets and squares wearing paper crowns and making a racket. They bang on the pots and pans and sing songs. Then, they come to local bakeries for little gifts - either sweets or a few euros. November 11 is usually also the day of the new wine. Thus, adults can enjoy wine tasting and roasted chestnuts.
Moreover, one of the unique symbols of Festa di San Martino is special cakes. Most bakeries in Venice sell a shortbread cake with icing, sweets, and candied fruit. These cakes depict Saint Martin on horseback with his cloak. Don't hesitate and get carried away by the childlike atmosphere on the streets of Venice!
During Festa di San Martino, head to the Castello neighborhood. There you will find the San Martino church, one of the well-known Venice churches. Check the Venice map; you'll see it's only 15 minutes from St Mark's Square. Besides, it's close to the Arsenal, the main venue for the Venice Biennale. Stop at the Naval History Museum if you'd like to learn more about Venice and its naval history. It has an exciting display of old and newer vessels. As you make your way to the church, spot San Zaccaria. The famous San Francesco della Vigna is also less than 10 minutes away.