The Festival: Historical Notes
‘The Festa del Redentore, Festival of the Redeemer, is an annual celebration of the end of the plague that struck a large part of Europe in the 16th century, causing more than 50,000 deaths in Venice. In 1576, Doge Alvise Mocenigo invoked the end of the epidemic and the salvation of the city by constructing a votive temple ‘which our successors will go and visit, in perpetual memory of the grace received’.’
So Palladio was called in to design the church on the island of Guidecca, which was completed in 1592. More about that later. The annual celebration of Redentore takes place over one weekend in July, and the first thing one notices here is the the rise in river traffic and everyone rowing, walking, travelling in the same direction: to the lagoon. We took the vaporetto to the Giardini, and as soon as we emerged from the Grand Canal it was party time. Boats of all shapes and ages were piling in, disco music was blaring from just about every vessel, and our water bus rocked in the swell.At the Giardini we were away from the crowds of San Marco, and instead surrounded by locals from the sestiere of Castello, who had come out with their chairs, children and grandmothers to sit on the edge of the lagoon, waiting for the firework display. Local lads dived recklessly into the water in the spaces between the boats.
Finally the fireworks began and for half an hour we were treated to an extraordinary display with the crowds cooing in admiration ‘bello, bello’ and sometimes applauding. This was fortunate for the organisers: some displays in the past have been greeted with boos. And as an Italian remarked today: it used to be bread and circuses, now, it seems, it’s just circuses. A beautiful circus nonetheless whose theme this year appeared to be flowers: exploding petals with a clear centre. Reminded me of the glass made in Murano. My camera battery ran out, but I managed this rather smudged one. It shows the shapes of San Marco and Campaniella centre left, and the reflections in the water.At midnight the fireworks ended, and a cacophony of sirens erupted from the boats. Plague is over. Now off to the Lido till dawn.