If you’re visiting Venice, Italy over the summer, you might get the chance to attend one of the city’s most beloved festivals: La Festa del Redentore, or the Feast of the Most Holy Redeemer. What’s it all about? I’ve got all the details for you in this post, along with my story of attending it a few years ago!
Are you ready? Andiamo!
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La festa del Redentore 2020
I was pleasantly surprised to find out that yes, La Festa del Redentore is happening in 2020! Of course, because of the COVID-19 crisis, things will be different.
To make a long story short, you have to get tickets (which are free, but limited). According to the article below, 70% of the tickets are reserved for Venetian residents, and 30% are for tourists who are staying in hotels in the city.
***On July 9, mayor Luigi Brugnaro cancelled the fireworks display due to the fact that there has been a very slight increase in cases of COVID-19 in the region.***
That said, the religious ceremonies, regattas, votive bridge, and musical performances are all still happening.
The 2020 booking system
There’s going to be a booking system rolled out, with priority given to residents of Venice and tourists who can demonstrate that they’re staying in hotels.
In order to book, you’ll have to provide your name and Codice Fiscale (I’m not sure how this will work for tourists, who don’t have a Codice Fiscale). You can only book for a maximum of three people.
You’ll receive a confirmation email, indicating which area of the city you can access (they’ve broken it down into three sectors – San Marco, which will be limited to 11,273 people, Zattere, with a limit of 1,951 and Giudecca, with 5,056), at what time you can arrive, and the rules you’ll have to follow.
The ticket you’ll receive by email does not have to be printed. You’ll have to show it on your phone along with your Carta d’identità (again, I’m not sure how that’ll work for tourists, but a passport should be sufficient).
Limits on the number of attendees
Essentially, they’re limiting the number of people who attend down to 1/3 of the usual crowd.
Normally, the number of boats allowed into the lagoon is limited, but this year, they’re lifting that limit. There is a maximum number of people allowed on each boat, however. Unfortunately, I can’t find that number anywhere, but I’m assuming it’s probably tied to the size of the boat.
The Venezia Unica website recommends following their social media accounts, as well as those of the Comune di Venezia to get the latest updates.
When is La Festa del Redentore?
The festival is celebrated every year on the third Saturday and Sunday in July. This year, that’ll be July 18th and 19th.
What does la festa del redentore celebrate?
La Festa del Redentore is a Venetian festival that commemorates the end of the plague. Venice lost 50,000 of its own to the disease, and when the city was finally freed of it, the Doge at the time, Alvise Mocinego, decided to build a new church in gratitude to the Redeemer (Jesus) to thank him for ending this dark period in Venice’s history.
The history of the festival
On July 20, 1577, a bridge made of boats was set up in order to allow people to get from Venice to the island of Giudecca, where the church of the Most Holy Redeemer (Santissimo Redentore, in Italian) was being constructed.
What events take place during the celebration?
Venice truly comes alive during the two-day celebration. There are various events that take place over the weekend.
Walk across the floating bridge
Every year for la Festa del Redentore, the city sets up a series of floats which allow people to walk across the water from Fondamenta delle Zattere to Giudecca island, just as the Venetians did in 1577. In 2020, the bridge will be closed in the evening to avoid crowds gathering.
Watch the fireworks on saturday***CANCELLED for 2020***
As I mentioned above, the fireworks display has been cancelled for this year.
The fireworks normally shoot off around 11:30pm from the Bacino San Marco. I’ve been researching the best spots to view the fireworks from, and they seem to be Giudecca, Riva degli Schiavoni (right in front of the Bacino San Marco) and Punta della Dogana. In 2020, if you’re lucky enough to get a ticket, you’ll have to watch from your assigned area.
Of course, the best option would be to watch from a boat. There are some boats on Airbnb that include dinner and watching the fireworks. I assume that those properties go really fast, so hurry!
Attend the regattas on Sunday
There are three boat races on Sunday afternoon, starting at 4pm in the Giudecca canal. The first two are for children. The final one is between gondolas.
Attend a religious celebration
Because la Festa del Redentore has its origins in a religious feast, there is a mass at 7pm on Sunday evening at the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer (Santissimo Redentore) on Giudecca island.
enjoy the party!
Venice can be really dead at night, but it won’t be on the night of July 18th! It’s really fun to see the city crawling with people into the wee hours of the morning.
You can bring your own alcohol, but there’s no glass allowed in Piazza San Marco. Last year, cans were also not allowed in the main piazze, so plan ahead.
After the fireworks, a big crowd moves from Venice to Lido to carry on the party. While not the most comfortable sleeping situation, it certainly makes for a great story!
Tips for doing the Lido thing: Pack emergency cold-weather gear, something to puncture your ear drums with in case of unfortunate music, wear your largest pair of underpants, and don’t expect to get any sleep. For full details on how I learned this information, keep reading!
La festa del redentore: a travel story
Things I don’t do anymore:
-Go somewhere without knowing when I’ll get home
-Go somewhere without having a bed or something resembling a bed to sleep on
-Sleep in my clothes
Things I did on July 15, 2017:
-Went somewhere without knowing when I’d get home
-Went somewhere without having a bed or something resembling a bed to sleep on
-Slept in my clothes
For weeks prior to the date, my friends had been talking about Redentore, and telling stories about their time there last year. “It’s so fun!” they said. “We’ll have a picnic in Venice, watch the fireworks, go to Lido after, sleep on the beach, and then take the ferry back to Venice in the morning.”
I was hesitant to commit. Don’t get me wrong, I love picnics and fireworks, but I do not love butt cracks full of sand. Luckily, I was offered a ride back to Padua at 1am, as a friend had booked a van for herself and several others. I reserved my spot and was happy that I’d get to eat and watch the show, but avoid the sleeping in my clothes and getting sand in all my nooks and crannies. Perfect!
So, on July 15, around 7pm, we arrived in Venice with our backpacks full of plastic bottles of vino sfuso and snacks, ready to take on the night.
Exiting the train station in Venice is like moving from one world to another. You descend onto the platform, walk past the shops and cafés in the station as if you’re heading out onto a normal street in any city in the world, and then you near the exit and see, well, this…
We strolled through town looking for the secluded picnic spot my friends had found the year before, which, in Venice, is no small feat. We passed through a piazza filled with the scent of barbecued meat and the sound of a summer night. These types of parties, called sagre, are common in Italy throughout the summer months. Sometimes they center on one particular food (strawberries, chick peas, wild boar, etc.) and sometimes they center on a place, like a parish, village, or town. I’ve had some of the best food I’ve ever eaten off of a plastic plate at a sagra. It’s one of those magical things you experience when living abroad, because you’re truly participating in an aspect of the local culture. If you ever have the opportunity to go to one, don’t miss it.
At last, we found a secluded corner of the city where we wouldn’t disturb or be disturbed. The view, as they all seem to be in Venice, was beautiful.
The golden sunshine kissed the buildings and sparkled off the water. A few lights were on in windows, and I wondered who lived there. We opened our bottles and had some snacks.
A few boats passed as we sat. Some people waved and said hello, possibly wondering about our group as I wondered about the people in the lighted windows above us.
After a while, the orange light of the sunset began to darken, but continued to create a warm glow on the buildings and diamonds on the water. I drank in the sight, and was grateful to be in such a beautiful spot with my beautiful friends.
My reverie was interrupted by the rumbling of a large boat coming around the corner, which churned up that lagoon smell that one sometimes encounters in Venice. If you have visited the city, you will know this smell. If you have not, allow me to describe it in the most vivid and poetic of terms: it smells like a cow farting out a thousand hard-boiled eggs, with a dash of old fish mixed in. We choked as it stung our noses.
I looked around at the incredible place we were in and the seemingly idyllic night we were having and laughed, because what else can one do when one minute you’re admiring marvelous architecture on a splendid evening and the next you’re inundated with the scent of a fish and flatulence cocktail?
Digression: Please remember this anecdote the next time you see a particularly enviable Instagram post by a travel blogger or an influencer. As the saying goes, things aren’t always what they seem.
Anyway, back to the suffocating smell of crap and dead fish. To make matters better-worse, two gondolieri appeared, chatting to each other. It brought me back to the fact that I was in Venice surrounded by friends on a gorgeous, warm summer night, enjoying a historic festival with thousands of other people. I was in one of the most beautiful cities in the world! Venice is crowded and hot and ridiculously full of tourists, but it’s incredible. There is truly no other place like it. I felt grateful and glamorous once again, until one of the gondolieri loudly yelled to the other in Venetian dialect “pussa de merda!” as they rounded the corner. “It smells like shit!”
We ended up staying put for the fireworks. I mildly regret this, because we couldn’t see them in their full splendor, but they had closed off the main piazze for security reasons, so we probably wouldn’t have gotten a good view anyway, unless we had gone to San Marco early and waited for night to fall. We saw what we could, and the glimpses we caught were still beautiful in the night sky.
After the fireworks, it was time for me to make my way to the van. I looked at the time and checked Google Maps to see where I needed to get to, and there is no way I was going to make it, unless I ran.
Much hemming and hawing ensued, and one of my friends reminded me that this was possibly the last chance I had to do this, as I’m not really sure what the next year holds. Having consumed exactly the amount of wine to make a rash decision, I said yes. I’m staying! I’m living! I’m seizing the day! I might never do this again! I also super don’t want to sprint across the city!
We collected our things and made our way towards the ferry to Lido. On the way, we met up with some other people we know from Padua, so our group grew by about six. We bought our tickets, and waited for the time to come to cross the water.
Lido is where many celebrities stay when they come to Venice. The streets are wide and clean and peppered with designer shops and fancy food stores. How fabulous we were, heading to the place where Angelina spends her days in Venice!
The ferry arrived and we moved in a pack onto the boat. “Keep your ticket! It’s round trip!” one of our friends yelled, as my other friend promptly dropped his on the ground. He spun to around and bent over to retrieve it, precisely at the moment that I bowed my head to help him look for it, which resulted in him head-butting me. As the stars circled my head and my tongue lolled out like Wile E. Coyote after he gets pounded with a mallet, I vaguely registered my friend’s hand hovering in the air as he searched for something to grab onto so that he could steady himself. I watched it float around like a butterfly momentarily, before falling forward and settling squarely on my right boob.
How like Angelina I am.
After my glamorous-adjacent entrance onto the boat, we settled into our seats and snacked on breadsticks as the ferry sliced through the black water towards Lido. We disembarked and stopped at the first bar on the main street that leads toward the beach, in an attempt to make sure our crowd had remained intact.
An absurd amount of time passed as we tried to get everyone together. Someone had to go to the bathroom. Someone wanted a caffè corretto. Someone else went to get a sandwich. More caffè corretti. More bathroom trips. More sandwiches.
After nearly two hours of cat-herding, we trudged down the street towards the beach, which was absolutely packed with people dancing, drinking, sleeping, and doing everything else one might do after a long day of festivities.
Despite having been a sticky-hot day, it was absolutely freezing. The wind whipped off the water and I shivered, chiding myself for not packing emergency pants. I laid down, being sure to really grind my head around so that I could just reeeeally fill my hair with sand, and tried to sleep. Luckily, I had made the wise decision to wear my most gigantic underpants in order to prevent any sand from entering my butt crack, so I was spared that tiny hell. The kind of music that makes me want to puncture my ear drums with the nearest sharp object thumped from giant speakers, and the wind was relentless.
“WHY DID YOU STAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYY,” my brain roared. “WHY DID YOU DO THIS TO YOURSELF?!” I decided to sit up, and that’s when I noticed the first light on the horizon. The sun was rising.
Inky purple light spread over our heads to meet the dark blue night sky, which was still sprinkled with stars. The purple gave way to magenta, to orange, to pink, to yellow. The water was illuminated, and the wind started to die down. The night had gone back to magic.
The magnificent sunrise caused my discomfort to wane, and brought me back to a place of gratitude. Over the years I’ve spent abroad, I’ve been in uncomfortable situations, but I usually find that if I open my eyes wide enough and tell my brain to shut up, it’s pretty easy to find something to marvel at. These opportunities remind me to appreciate the present. I smelled the sea air. I felt the sun beginning to warm my goosebumps. I stared at the disappearing stars, trying to imprint the colors of the half-sunrise/half-night unfolding above me in my memory.
As I crawled into bed at 10am, I was happy that I had made the decision to stay. I had celebrated a festival in one of the most beautiful cities in the world with my friends. I had spent the night on a beach, something I had never done before. I had seen Venice in a new light, and had witnessed a breathtaking sunset over the water.
I fell asleep with a belly full of McDonald’s breakfast and a smile. After all, the sand would come out of my hair, eventually.
Want more Venice? Check out this post on how to see the best view in the city.
Here’s one on some great little bacari, where you can snack on cicheti and drink spritz like the locals do!
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