Every year, on the first Sunday in September, the Grand Canal in Venice fills with colorful boats. They look strange to anyone who is not accustomed to the lagoon’s traditions: there are “maciarele”, “pupparini”, “mascarete”, “caorline”, “bisse”… and “gondoline” – which might sound a little more familiar internationally.
These are the types of boats that take part in the Historical Regatta, a rowing event that is half historical reenactment and half competitive race.
With its next edition planned for September 4th, 2016, the Regatta has remote origins that some say date back to the late 10th century, at the time of the famous “maidens’ kidnapping” we wrote about in a previous article.
The event begins with a historical parade in which the “bissone” take the lion’s share, if nothing else because they do not usually appear in the lagoon. The parade is in celebration of Caterina Cornaro (1454-1510), Venetian queen of Jerusalem, Armenia and Cyprus.
Then it’s time for the Venetian rowing races, divided into different categories depending on rowers’ age and boat type.
In her “Serenissima: A Novel of Venice”, Erica Jong describes the Historical Regatta as the one day when Venice – the most bourgeois city in the world – belongs to its working class people, who applaud competitors they know by name and religiously follow all the different races.
The event reveals the “real Venice”: not the one portrayed by the paparazzi who chase after celebrities over the summer, but the one where shop owners, boatmen, cooks, waiters, cleaners, fishermen, and maids work and live every day of the year.