We've moved from Baltimore, Maryland USA to Venice, Italy in pursuit of living our dream!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Living the dream - Festa del Redentore

Every year on the third weekend in July, Venetians commemorate surviving the Plague of the mid-1500's by staging a very big celebration. The celebration has been the same ever since the first one held way back when the Redentore Church was completed. A pontoon bridge across the Giudecca canal is put in place, linking the Zattere on the edge of Dorsoduro to Guidecca Island, ending right at the steps of the Redentore church. This church was built as a thank you for ending the plague.

There is plenty of excitement building up to the beginning of this Festa. We walked down to the Zattere on Friday nite, and could see that bright yellow lanterns had been strung along the street on both sides of the canals, and the cafes and restaurants were colorfully decorated. There was even a live musical group at one of the cafĂ©’s on the waterfront. Then we walked down to where the pontoon bridge was, and could see that the center portion still had to be moved into place on Saturday.

The bridge opens up at 7pm on Saturday, so people can make their pilgrimage across to the Redentore. Venetians in boats get into position in the lagoon between St. Marks and this makeshift bridge, waiting to partake in the festivities. We had done our research and knew that the fireworks would begin at 11:30 pm, and we wanted to get there early enough, but not too early. At about 7pm we could hear crowds of people moving past our house, which is not far from Piazzale Roma. Clearly people were arriving from outside the city, making their way to Guidecca for the night’s partying. We got ourselves ready and headed out the door around 8pm to join the crowd as well. Everyone around us was carrying bags of food and we noticed several also had green plants wrapped in clear cellophane and red ribbons. We were eager to get there to experience this special festival for ourselves this year.

I can’t remember seeing this many people in one place. The throng of people moving across the pontoon bridge was incredible- I grabbed out to Mike so not to loose sight of him. It was orderly—but crowed! Luckily we were able to stop a few places along the bridge to take pictures. There were hundreds of boats already rafted up in the lagoon – complete with loads of people already partying! It reminded me of 4th of July celebrations in the U.S.

We made our way across the bridge, and went into the church. Mass is said here over the weekend and people come to pray for the health of their families and friends. I joined in, and also lit a candle before leaving. Outside, there were booths set up selling food, drinks and candy and balloons. Mike and I found a place to sit right on the steps of the Redentore church, which at the time seemed like an excellent vantage point for fireworks viewing.

The crowds continued to arrive across the bridge, moving to the left and the right as they set foot on Guidecca Island. The Carabineri were milling about, so were another branch of police in white shirts, I think they might have been Navy personnel, and we also saw some volunteer firemen- and women. About 11:15 these various police units shut down traffic on the bridge. And at 11:30, right about on schedule, the fireworks began! Unfortunately, our position on the steps didn’t turn out to be the optimum for seeing fireworks, so we had to get up and move down into the crowds and watch standing up. The Italians have an incredible talent for fireworks- this display was one of the best I have ever seen. Sadly my photos don't do it justice.

Fireworks over, the police re-opened the bridge and we became part of the masses walking back over to Dorsoduro to get home. We watched boats start to disperse, some heading home, the rest heading over to the Lido where they will all gather for a breakfast at 6am, part of the traditional celebration. Maybe next year we’ll find a way to be out there on a boat.

On Sunday, there are boat regattas for several classes of rowing boats, including one for gondolas. At 7pm Sunday night, the Patriarch of Venice says a special mass at The Redentore church, and that concludes the weekend festivities.

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