Vogalonga: The rowing festival on the lagoon

Boats are an icon of Venice. There are also many events dedicated to boating and rowing in the city.

Many races take place over the season, culminating in the famous traditional regatta held the first Sunday in September. An historical parade of traditional boats goes along the Grand Canal, carrying people dressed as famous figures from the city’s history.

After this parade, comes the racing which Venetians are passionate about. There are races for various categories of rowers and boats: multi-coloured “caorline” races representing different areas of the city, young people on “pupparini” and women on “mascarete”. Finally, the gondola race with the champion rowers takes place, with competitors challenging each other and “running” up the Grand Canal.

For over 40 years now, there has also been the “Vogalonga”, which is a marvellous race to see.

As far back as 1974, the traffic problem due to motor boats on the canals was seen as a growing threat due to the swells generated. These constitute a danger to safe navigation as well as to the city’s buildings.

Some Venetians had the idea of organizing a rowing event as a protest against this situation. They did it to draw greater attention to the problem on the part of public officials as well as to support the city’s traditions.

This is how the Vogalonga was born. It’s a long and arduous race with over 30 kilometres of rowing. It crosses the lagoon from the start at San Marco, comes down to Burano and then crosses the Grand Canal in return.

Over the years, this event has drawn teams from all over the world with different kinds of boats. The largest number of participants was in 2014 when over 7,500 rowers participated. This included 4,300 foreigners and having over 2,100 yachts on the city’s waterways. Every year, this “rowing festival” fills the city with a multitude of colours, making it a delightful attraction to watch.

At 9.00 am, there is the traditional firing of a canon, marking the start. A bevy of boats literally covers the lagoon basin near San Marco. They wind their way along the course and, after rounding the end of San Elena, go back along the canal running by the islands of Vignole and San Erasmo. Eventually, they reach Burano, cross Murano and then return towards Venice.

The entrance of the Cannaregio canal usually gets clogged with boats that slowly thin out as they parade along the Grand Canal up to the starting point. All who take part receive a certificate of participation and a commemorative medal for that year’s race. It’s a traditional and non-competitive regatta in which there is no winner or last in. The prize is to have the pleasure of participating in a water race in Venice.

All along the race course, Venetians and tourists enjoy the colourful parade of boats and their crews, who are often dressed in zany and unusual costumes. Everyone enjoys this festive day. It’s not to be missed should you find yourself in Venice when it’s held.

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