“The Venetians have had from the beginning of time the pride of their processions and spectacles, and it's a wonder how with empty pockets they still make a clever show. The Carnival is dead, but these are the scraps of its inheritance. Vauxhall on the water is of course more Vauxhall than ever, with the good fortune of home-made music and of a mirror that reduplicates and multiplies.”
Henry James, Italian Hours
Venice’s religious and secular festivals were great tourist attractions, which also provided a means of reinventing life as a form of art in which all classes participated. The most famous of these festivals took place on Ascension Day with the ceremony of Sposalizio del Mar (The Marriage of the Sea) when the doge was rowed into the lagoon in a huge barge known as the Bucintoro, followed by the nobles and guilds of the city. Halted at the part of the Lido where the waters of the Adriatic and the lagoon met, the Doge emptied a large flask of holy water into the mingling currents and then sealed the marriage by throwing a ring of gold into the water with the words “We espouse thee, O sea, as a sign of true and perpetual dominion”. With the waning of Venice’s maritime power this ritual attracted a considerable number of ironic comments particularly from the British grand tourists. Another important ceremony was the chairing of a newly-elected Doge who was paraded around the Piazza San Marco on a throne held up by gondoliers.
Additionally there were two very ancient religious festivals which, unlike the Sposalizio del Mar, still survive today-the Festa del Redentore and the Festa della Salute when bridges of boats are constructed across the Giudecca and Grand canals and elaborate firework displays are put on. Lastly there were the Regattas, often involving hugely elaborate vessels decorated with allegorical figures, which were often put on in honour of a visiting dignatory as was the case with the Women’s Regatta of 1764, staged for the notoriously libidinous Duke of York.