The Regata Storica is an occasion that celebrates one of the oldest traditions of the Venetian Republic, traditional rowing. Unique to its setting it is the most famous regata of its sort and reminds us all of what is an incredibly special history.
Every opening onto the grand canal, every bridge and every balcony is filled with anticipation as the day goes on. Starting with traditional costumes atop large ornate barges and building up to gondolieri streaking past in sets of two.
What is it?
Regata Storica is considered the most important ‘regata’ of voga veneta. For a long time before Venice became part of the rest of Italy, it was really mainly a way of encouraging gondoliers to preserve their skill, it was even privately financed for many years. However, after the Venice became a part of Italy, it has changed to a way of celebrating the traditions of the Venetian Republic, and it is once again publicly financed.
But it was not until 1899, the year of the 3rd International Biennale Art Exhibition, that this was officially recognised by Count Filippo Grimani, Mayor of Venice, who coined the name, “Regata Storica”. The first regattas have been documented as early as the 13th century but there are very few who do not believe that they started well before this. They have also played a prominent part in artists renditions of Venice, with the first being in the View of Venice drawn by Jacopo dé Barbari in around 1500.
The regata has always consisted of various races with different kinds of boat, originally these included galleys, peatoni, and barges, as well as lighter boats rowed by two or more oarsmen. However, nowadays there are fewer varieties of boat but there are still many different categories of race (from children only to women only).
The most popular race for all those watching is the gondolini regatta. In previous years the noble men would flank the races to discourage unruly spectators from disrupting the actives. However, now days the large galley boats are purely decorative.
Races are held all day on the 1st Sunday of September, starting with the parade along the Grand Canal of historical crafts with costumed crews, boats and gondolas of the Venetian rowing associations (Voga alla Veneta). This then leads on to children’s races with a category for Under 10s! This is then followed by the adult races, which attracts an even bigger crowd.
As it is one of those rare events when the best view is not necessarily from a top a beautiful terrace or in an exclusive hotel but quite probably amongst the crowds of jostling and excited people. It all ends at the foot of Ca Foscari, where traditional the wife of the Doge would have sat along with several over important noble men. Nowadays the awards are all handed out here, and the closing of the ceremony.
It is truly unique experience, you can feel the pride that quite rightly fills the city.
This year for first the time there was also the RED REGATA within the Regata storica, Site-responsive public art project by Melissa McGill choreographing 52 traditional Venetian “vela al terzo” sailboats, hoisted with hand-painted red sails, in a performative regatta that celebrates local maritime culture and history and calls attention to the fragile balance between the city of Venice and the sea.