The Regata Storica is the main event in the annual "Voga alla Veneta" rowing calendar. This unique sport has been practised in the Venetian lagoon for thousands of years and today it is particularly well-known for the spectacular historical water pageant that precedes the race.
The regata has always been extremely popular with both Venetians and visitors. The first historical record of the event dates back to the mid 13th century, when it was part of the “Festa delle Marie” celebrations. However, it is likely that regattas existed long before this, as Venice has always been a seafaring city and training reserves of oarsmen was a prime necessity.
The first visual image of a regatta comes somewhat later, in the View of Venice drawn by Jacopo dé Barbari in around 1500. This map includes a detail of a group of boats with the word “regata” written at the side. From thereonwards the regatta became a favourite subject with scene painters wishing to capture the festive spirit of the city.
The etymology of the word is uncertain, but it probably derives from aurigare, a verb used in the 16th century as a synonym for racing, and since then the term has come to mean a boat race in all the main European languages.
In time, financing the regattas shifted from the Republic to private individuals, who were often foreign princes. In 1797, when the Republic officially ceased to exist, the regattas certainly did not, and in that same year, the city’s democratic government announced two races for its citizens. The modern regata dates back to 1841, when the organizational expenses moved back from the private to the public sphere. In that year, the Municipality of Venice requested the Austrian authorities to proclaim an annual “boat race along the Grand Canal, organized by the local authorities to encourage gondoliers to uphold the honour of their famed skills”. In 1866 when Venice became part of the Kingdom of Italy, the focus of the event changed, and instead of just a race, the regattas became a celebration of the glorious history of the Republic of Venice.
Despite this, it was not until 1899, the year of the 3rd International Biennale Art Exhibition,
that this was officially recognised by Count Filippo Grimani, Mayor of Venice, who coined the name, “Regata Storica”.
Photo Credit: Matteo Chinellato - ChinellatoPhoto