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Marriage to the sea

Corteo di barche allo sposalizio del mareThe Doge of the Serenissima used this rite to demonstrate the Republic’s dominion in the gulf.

Aside from legend and tradition, the ceremony probably had Byzantine origins, or could even have been based on ancient pagan propitiators.

The doge and his entourage embarked on the Bucintoro. On reaching the mouth of San Nicolò port, the Doge threw a gold ring into the sea.

A huge and colourful procession of decorated boats with representatives of the guilds and the city’s major corporations followed the Bucintoro.

Il BucintoroThe Bucintoro

This was the Serenissima’s flagship and it embodied the pomp and splendour of the Republic thanks to its ornaments and decoration.

It was used for water processions, for greeting ambassadors and the most important visitors of the time, for festivities and principally on Ascension Day.

Il Bucintoro
It had two decks: the lower level held the rowers, whilst the upper held a large salon, covered with a canopy and decorated in red velvet. It had 48 windows and seating for 90 people. It was reserved for the highest authorities of the Republic. The Doge’s sumptuous throne on the stern added the finishing touch.
Il Bucintoro
The last Bucintoro launched in 1728 was approximately 35 metres long, with 42 oars and 168 oarsmen.

With the fall of the Republic in 1797, the French troops pillaged the boat, stripping it of its adornments.

Canaletto, lo sposalizio del mareThe ceremony

On Ascension Day the Bucintoro was brought before the Saint Mark’s Square: it waited for the Doge and the Council to embark, along with prestigious guests and foreign ambassadors.

The cortege consisted of commanders, equerries, church dignitaries, clergymen and chancellors. During the journey, musicians from the Marciana chapel played madrigals

Giovanni Grevembroch, Antico BucintoroOnce past the island of St. Elena, the Bucintoro was joined by a boat carrying the Patriarch who, once on board, blessed the sea. Immediately afterwards, the Doge threw the ring into the water to seal the marriage.

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