May and June are the peak months in Venetian spring festivities, and feasts and celebrations to open spring and summer are plentiful, from sagre, to all kinds of religious and non-religious festivities. It's here that you can explore the Venetian soul first-hand.
It's the Venetian Ascension day, celebration of the Festa della Sensa, that I would like to point out to you in this post. You will read about two legends, an old one tied to the decisive turning point in Venetian history, describing what Venice had in mind and how its advent of a commercial power came about. The second legend is such a lovely fiaba for children I cannot resist telling you. Both are connected to the Festa della Sensa and give a vivid impression of what it still means to us these days. 
Rio dell'Arsenal and Bacino di San Marco, near the Arsenale where the Venetian ships were built and the Bucintoro del terzo millenio boat is currently being reconstructed ..
The Venetian word "Sensa" means "ascensione" in Italian, so it is the Feast of Ascension, celebrated Venetian-style. Venetians, from the very beginning, gave this religious feast a very different meaning ..
On a humid warm day in late May ... entrance of the Arsenale
The first, history-based account of how Venetians invested the Festa della Sensa with special meaning is beautifully laid out in the epic book "City of Fortune" by Roger Crowley, specializing in the history of the Mediterranean.
City of Fortune, Roger Crowley
Already in the 10th century, with Venice still an outpost of the Byzantine empire in Europe, Venetians expanded trade with the Dalmatian coast. And this is where the future survival of the city was to be construed - becoming a city of merchants with trade posts scattered in strategic points. Doge Pietro Orseolo realized it as early as in the year 1000 AD, and he acted accordingly. He commissioned an impressive fleet of boats in the Arsenale and "visited" the towns lined up on the Dalmatian shore, as the book describes in vivid colors. Up to that time, Venetian ships going to Constantinople passing these little coves had often been attacked, even though they paid their "tribute". Instead of paying, the Doge decided to stage a show encompassing an impressive fleet to "convince" the settlers on the Dalmation coast to discontinue their efforts aimed at approaching Venetian shores of the northern Adriatic. So the doge and his fleet proclaimed these towns as partners in commerce. The coast soon produced wine and corn for Venice and its commerce, and also delivered pine tree trunks for Venetian boats and marble for Venetian palaces.
The entrance of the Arsenale is still guarded by lions
Every year from then on, Venetians recalled this event, with the doge, his entourage and the people of Venice going in their boats to the entrance of the lagoon near the Lido (San Nicolò area), where the doge "married" the sea by throwing a golden ring into the waters. This annual celebration was interrupted after the fall of the Republic in 1797, but taken up again in 1965. Today, it is organized by the Festa della Sensa Committee
Near the Lido towards San Nicolò is where the boats are going to ..
Take a look at the host of boats scattered in the lagoon on Ascension Day in former times ..
Francesco Guardi: Festa della Sensa
During the times of the Venetian Republic, in addition to the formal ceremony on the boats, the Festa della Sensa was also celebrated with a fair organized in Piazza San Marco, the Fiera della Sensa (fiera means fair): This fair lasted for two weeks, representing a sort of prologation of Carnival, with the possibility to exhibit rare merchandise and sport the latest fashion, including masks.
Fiera della Sensa in the Piazza during the times of the Venetian Republic
For a few years now, a new legend connected with the Festa della Sensa, or rather a fiaba, is has been around for us to enjoy - or maybe to learn from ..
La Scala del Bovolo - entrance to the Corte del Tempo
A few weeks ago, I re-read a beautiful book for children, Mistica Maeva e l'anello di Venezia, written by Laura Walter, telling how 10-year-old Maeva from Venice sets out with her friend and nonna plus pigeon and red cat, to save Venice from acqua alta. To accomplish this objective, they need to access a parallel world called Corte del Tempo, which one can enter from the stairs leading up the house of the Scala del Bovolo. So the children enter a secret world, where ancient Venetian is spoken in a rush of eternal Carnival. They succeed in retrieving a special key and then stage their private Festa della Sensa, where they throw this key into the waters off the Lido. In addition to being a popular story with Venetian kids, this is also a fabulous book to initiate children to Venice and its issues.
Mistica Maeva and the ring of Venice (Italian only) at Laura Walter's web page
The book ends well: As a result of Maeva's adventure, attentive Venetians could notice a change in the qualities of the sea in the lagoon, in the sense that water was clearer, no acqua alta hit town any more, the air became nitid and lagoon fish healthy. If only that came true !!!!
So Festa della Sensa was celebrated in Venice today - this morning, the Venetian mayor, onboard the bissona boat, threw a laurel wreath into the waters off the church of San Nicolò.
(BTW: the bucintoro, the doge's golden state boat during the times of the Venetian Republic, is currently being restored, in co-operation with three French regions that provided exactly the kind of wood from rovere trees (sessile oak) used to build the first bucintoro).
You can click here to witness the unique atmosphere of this day in Venice .. and here to view the program for the day.
Click here to view what Ascension day in Venice was like

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