The biggest popular city festival, a breathtaking show, the centuries-old renewal of thanksgiving for the end of a terrible plague.
The Feast of the Redentore embodies all these things.
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The Feast of the Redentore is the fest most felt by the Venetians.
In 1575 Italy was hit by a terrible plague epidemic and Venice was not immune to it; the terrible disease in fact spread throughout the city for almost two years, reaping more than 50,000 victims. For other similar epidemics that erupted in previous eras, the Venetian government, through the Provveditori alla Sanità, had already built two "Lazzaretti" (Lazzaretto Nuovo and Lazzaretto Vecchio) on an island in the lagoon, in 1423 and 1468, but in the epidemic of 1575 the two admissions were so overloaded that the Senate decreed that large boats containing the sick could not stay near the island and could not be hospitalized in the Lazzaretti. They also arrested all the beggars scattered around the city who, given their precarious hygiene conditions, were more likely to contract the disease, and took them to almost two thousand boats anchored close to the Lazzaretti. Also suspected of plague were hospitalized in the Abbey of the Madonna dell'Orto.
Two professors from the University of Padua were called to Venice to advise on what to do, but they did not know how to make themselves useful. Severe restrictive measures were then issued at least to limit the plague: everything that might have had contact with the sick was burned, an attempt was made to purify the air by burning juniper that arrived on purpose from Istria and Dalmatia, obliged the inhabitants to stay home for eight days and the sestieri closed. Not knowing what to do anymore, the Doge urged the people to pray, deliberating on the construction of a votive temple dedicated to the Redeemer as soon as the plague was over.
Only with winter and cold did the epidemic cease, and in December 1576 the nightmare ended. The government immediately commissioned the architect Andrea Palladio to design the votive temple of the "Redentore", placing it on the island of Giudecca; the foundation stone was laid on May 3, 1577. In July of the same year the end of the disease was solemnly announced in the basilica of San Marco and it was decreed that the third Sunday of July was forever dedicated to the visit to the Temple of the Redentore. Doge Sebastiano Venier, without waiting for the end of the construction, wanted to go to Giudecca with a solemn procession; a bridge of boats was then built from Piazza San Marco to Giudecca to pass the procession and the people following, and so it was done every year to come. The temple was consecrated on September 27, 1592.
Every third Sunday in July, this festival was preceded by many preparations: the houses in Giudecca were whitewashed and decorated and the people, after paying tribute to the Redeemer, stayed along the banks of the island singing and dining by candlelight or flashlights. Over time, the outdoor party began on the eve because many people, for fear of not finding a place for the ceremonies, went to Giudecca the night before, spending the night there. Giocoforza thus created itinerant kitchens for those who spent the evening and night waiting for the ceremonies on the shore, in the streets, in the gardens or in the anchored boats. The banks were adorned with festoons of branches all and with hundreds of paper balloons (the balòni) lit by internal candles that shone the light on the festivities. Thus it became the “Feast of the Redentore”, o Il Redentòr, where entire families of the people or nobility and groups of friends stayed on the Giudecca to eat, drink and celebrate, all together all night. Many arrived at Giudecca with various boats, also decorated with illuminated branches and baloons, and remained to celebrate on the boat, waiting for the fireworks that often were launched from the shores of the island. Then, past midnight, many boats went to the Lido beach to wait for sunrise
Even today, on the evening of this festival which by now has lost its ancient religious motive among the population, many Venetians decorate their boats with branches and colorful baloons, perhaps with battery lighting, and, with friends or families, go to San Marco basin or around Giudecca, or in front of or behind the island of San Giorgio. There they drop anchor or bind to other friendly boats and begin to feast waiting for the fireworks that for about half an hour, from 11:30 pm to midnight, will illuminate the sky and all of San Marco with their colors. The San Marco basin is then full of boats, illuminated platforms, illuminated balloons that move in the water; the atmosphere is magical.
Even on the ground, throughout the city, banquets are organized in the fields or squares with lights and festoons; even if you don't see the "fires" from there, the important thing is to celebrate. A bridge of boats is still built, divided into two sections, the first part crosses the Grand Canal near the Madonna della Salute, the second part starts from the Zattere and, crossing the Giudecca canal, it arrives near the Temple of the Redentore.
Until a few years ago the banks turned off the lampposts and the baloons to enjoy the fireworks display in total immersion, today for safety reasons the lights remain on even during the show. This device, while subtracting a slight hint of charm, is nevertheless dominated by the size of the fireworks, a real enchantment for the eyes and a scenographic choreography with a pressing rhythm that takes your breath away, especially in the grand finale.