The Doge on the Bucintoro near the Riva di Sant’Elena (c. 1766-70) by Francesco Guardi

The “Festa della Sensa” dates back more than a thousand years and is one of the oldest Venetian festivals.
It is celebrated on Ascension Day (forty days after Easter) and celebrates the “Marriage of the Doge to the sea” in memory of the liberation of Dalmatia in 999 AD, when Venice rid Adriatic of piracy became undisputed ruler of the Seas.
Every year on the day of Sensa (“ascension” in Venetian), the Doge of Venice boarded the Bucintoro, the state galley, with all his followers and the leaders of the Council of Ten and sailed to the port of the Lido followed by an out-and-out water parade of boats.
The “Marriage of the Doge to the Sea”, the mystical union between Venice and the sea, or rather the “Mar”, a. faithful wife to love and respect, was held in front of the Sant’Andrea Fort: the bishop poured holy water while the Doge, from a small door in the stern, threw a gold ring into the waves, pronouncing these words:
“Desponsamus te mare. In signum very perpetuique dominii”
“I wed thee, O Sea, as a sign of eternal dominion.”
After the conclusion of the ceremony, the celebration continued in Venice with the Sensa’s Fair: parties, shows and storytellers animated the entire city – and in San Marco Square a market was built just for the occasion with goods of all kinds and from different countries, to satisfy the tastes of the many foreign visitors: a true international fair.
Today, the ceremony is still celebrated as a traditional festival on the first Sunday after Ascension Day.


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