One of the oldest Venetian holidays, Festa della Sensa, takes place every year in May on the Ascension Day to commemorate two important moments in the history of the Republic – a naval victory that would impose Venice as the main force of the Adriatic Sea, and a diplomatic one, nearly two centuries later, as a mediator of a conflict between the Papacy and the Roman Empire.
On May 18, 999, on Ascension Day, Doge Pietro Orseolo left on water to face the Slavs who threatened to conquer Dalmatia, a region on the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea, today’s Croatian territory. The victory will announce prosperous future centuries for the Venetian Republic, now the absolute ruler of the Adriatic Sea, without its domination being a tyrannical one, but rather one based on diplomacy and understanding.
To commemorate this naval victory, the celebration called Festa della Sensa was born in the year 1000, originally symbolizing the marriage with the sea through a relatively modest ritual.
In 1177, Venice was to act as an arbiter in a rather old conflict, that of the Papal State and the West Roman Empire. Pope Alexander III will sign peace in Venice with Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, mediator of this gesture being the Doge Sebastiano Ziani. After this treaty, the Pope rewarded the city with gifts and recognized Venice as the supreme power of the Adriatic Sea.
A few years later, the Venetians will take advantage of this holiday to hold a handicraft fair. The fair will become more and more popular, year after year, many renowned craftsmen of the time coming to exhibit their products in St. Mark’s Square.
Over time, Festa della Sensa would be lost, the Venetians forgetting about it for a while. In 1965, its reborn was attempted, but the enthusiasm of some people struck the indifference of others and the new form of the festival did not resist.
Later, in 1989, a group of citizens and certain sports and cultural associations set up the Comitato della Sensa, the one to fight for this feast to enter in the Venetian calendar of events, and in 1993, the Festa della Sensa was rejuvenated in a brilliant form, as it is celebrated today.
FESTA DELLA SENSA 2018 will take place on the weekend of May 12-13. On Sunday, 13 May, the Marriage with the Sea ceremony (Sposalizio del Mare) will be held in front of the San Nicolo Church on Lido and, on the same day, the Venetians will compete in the Regata della Sensa, rowing in boats of different sizes.