The best party in Venice is the 440-year-old Festa del Redentore. Every year a remarkable 25,000 fireworks explode over Serenissima, as locals take to boats and reclaim their canals. But this festival has a dark and dreadful past, one which led to a surprising Italian innovation.
The Festa del Redentore is an event held in Venice the third Sunday of July where the fireworks play an important role. On Saturday, the eve of the festival, fireworks are let off. Preparations begin early in the morning when people begin to decorate their boats, or the small wooden terraces on rooftops from where they can admire the fireworks. At sunset, Saint Mark’s basin begins to fill with up with boats of all kinds, festooned with balloons and garlands, and thousands of Venetians await the fireworks while dining on the boats.
Around 10 o’clock at night, from pontoons placed nearby the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, the fireworks begin and Saint Mark’s basin becomes one of the most atmospheric stages in the world. The fireworks last for around 45 to 60 minutes, illuminating the night and arousing intense emotions in both Venetians and visitors. Once the fireworks are over, the young people of the city head off to the Lido, where they sit on the sand and wait for dawn.A bridge of barges is built connecting Giudecca to the rest of Venice. Sunday is devoted to religious celebrations.
The Redentore began as a feast – held on the day of the Feast of the Most Holy Redeemer – to give thanks for the end of the terrible plague of 1576, which killed 50,000 people, including the great painter Tiziano Vecellio (Titian). The Doge Alvise I Mocenigo promised to build a magnificent church if the plague ended. Andrea Palladio was commissioned, assisted by Da Ponte, to build a majestic church on the Island of Giudecca. The church, known as Il Redentore, was consecrated in 1592, and is one of the most important examples of Palladian religious architecture. After the foundation stone was laid, a small wooden church was temporarily built, along with temporary bridge of barges from the Zattere, so that the Doge Sebastian Venier could walk in procession as far as the tabernacle. Afterwards, the Doge made a pilgrimage to the Church of Redentore every year.
The extraordinary story of the Festa del Redentore begins with the ordinary black rat. These seemingly harmless rodents arrived in Venice on one of the Republic’s many merchant galleys. But instead of bringing exotic spices from faraway lands, they brought something much more sinister. The plague.
The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia and peaking in Europe in the years 1346–1353. The plague created a series of religious, social, and economic upheavals, which had profound effects on the course of European history.
The Black Death is thought to have originated in the arid plains of Central Asia, where it then travelled along the Silk Road, reaching Crimea by 1343. From there, it was most likely carried by Oriental rat fleas living on the black rats that were regular passengers on merchant ships. Spreading throughout the Mediterranean and Europe, the Black Death is estimated to have killed 30–60% of Europe’s total population.
There are many lazaretto hospitals around the world, but Venice built the first. It is one of the earliest examples of risk management. In fact, the word “quarantine” also comes from this time.These godforsaken places don’t show up on the average tourist map. But come with us, if you dare, for a rare walk inside…
Today we associate the fearful mask of the plague doctor with death. But actually, these dark figures were the superheroes of their day. Their costume was like an early hazmat suit, with long beaks filled with aromatic herbs which were thought to ward off disease by purifying the air.
Venice ultimately saved itself from the plague—by putting in place an innovative quarantine strategy. But at the time the credit was given to Christ the Redeemer.To thank God for deliverance from plague, Republic of Venice made true on their promise to build a church: Il Redentore.
The church of Redentore was designed in 1577 by one of Italy’s most influential architects of all, Andrea Palladio.
Palladian architecture features Roman and Greek styles. For nearly 500 years it has inspired architects around the world.
The location of the church on an island in the Giudecca canal means that to reach it you must cross the water, a symbolic religious ritual.
In 1577, the city of Venice held a religious procession on a bridge of boats to arrive at the Giudecca island and lay the foundation stone of Il Redentore. Ever since, the same tradition has been repeated in pretty much the same way. This is now one of the most important events of the modern festival.
Venetians continue to construct the temporary bridge every year during the festival, and take part in the historic and symbolic crossing to the church of Redentore.
From unspeakable darkness, the people of Venice created an innovative risk management strategy, a magnificent church, and a powerful celebration of life that lives on today. And it doesn’t end there. A modern Redentore tradition has been added. As day turns to night, the people come together to enjoy the most anticipated event of all: the fireworks.