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Festa della Sensa
Festa della Sensa Review
The oldest Venetian festival, the Festival of the Ascension, was initiated by Doge Pietro Orseolo II in the year 1000, after he led the Venetian fleet to victory over the Slavic pirates (who had invaded the Istrian-Dalamatian coast) on Ascension Day. Originally the Ascension was a very simple ceremony in which the doge led a procession of boats to the entrance of the port of San Nicolò di Lido to meet the religious leader of the period, the bishop of San Pietro di Castello, who blessed the waters as a sign of peace and gratitude.
In 1177, with the famous "Peace of Venice" between Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and Pope Alexander III, the festival was transformed into the so-called "wedding with the sea." The story goes that following the occupation of Rome by Barbarossa's troops, Alexander III escaped to Venice disguised as a pilgrim, and after having passed the first night in the open air on the Sottoportego della Madonna near the Church of Sant'Aponal (now marked by a wooden plaque), he found work in the kitchens of the Convento della Carità (today home of the Gallerie dell'Accademia). Some time later, Alexander III was recognized by a Roman high prelate who was visiting the monastery. When the doge Sebastiano Ziani heard of this, he immediately began peace talks with the emperor. But Barbarossa did not want to make peace, so the doge armed a strong fleet and with the blessing of Alexander III set off from Piazzetta di San Marco to attack the imperial ships in the Istrian waters. The Venetians won and captured Barbarossa's son, thereby forcing the emperor to negotiate. In gratitude the pope gave a gold ring to the doge, with which he could remarry Venice with the sea every year.
In the days of the Republic, the Ascension began with a series of performances and celebrations that went on for 15 days and culminated with a large fair in Piazza San Marco. Today the Ascension is held on the Sunday following Ascension Day, the Thursday that falls 40 days after Easter, and begins at about 9 am with a procession of Venetian-oared boats led by the mayor in the Serenissima, who tosses a ring into the water and pronounces the ritual phrase "In segno di eterno dominio, noi, Doge di Venezia, ti sposiamo o mare!" (As a symbol of our eternal dominion, we wed you, o sea!). Masses in the Chiesa di San Nicolò and boat races follow later in the afternoon. In the Sala del Maggior Consiglio in Palazzo Ducale, you can see several objects that are part of the ceremony, such as the thick candle, the umbrella, the gilded throne, and the eight white, red, blue, and yellow banners. The Museo Storico Navale has an 18-foot-long scale model of the gilded boat once used by the doge.
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