Il Redentore is one of the biggest and well loved celebrations here in Venice. Every 3rd Saturday in July, Venetians mark the end of the plague (1577) which devastated the city leaving about 50,000 dead with prayers, fireworks at midnight and off to Lido to party until dawn.
The Redentore Church on Giudecca was commissioned by the Doge at that time and designed by Andrea Palladio as a solemn symbol of deliverance through prayers by the survivors of the plaque and the residents. The second church built to commemorate the significant diminishing of the plague was the Santa Maria della Salute Church. For many years later, the ruling Doge will make the pilgrimage every 3rd Sat in July to give thanks for the end of the dreaded disease.
Today, Venetians continue with the celebration albeit in a more lively fashion. Normally in the late afternoon (around 6pm) boats, barges and floating structures will make their way down to the basin of Saint Mark and Giudecca canal. It appears almost all Venetians who have boats or access to boats are out in full force. The boats are decorated with lanterns. Those with young revelers had loud music blasting while the others – Venetians out with their families were a little more subdued. But most of them had chairs and a small table decked out on board for the feasting . They were all headedtowards the basin of Saint Mark to ensure they have prime viewing positions for the firework display later that night. (See if you can persuade a Venetian family to let you join them on their boat)
On Giudecca, the residents started reserving spots by marking it with a chalk and stating their apartment no, on the canal side as early as 1 week ago. This was to ensure they have their spot to set up their tables for dinner on Redentore night. Traditional Venetian food is normally being served for this occassion.
A floating bridge (on pontoons) is then placed across the Giudecca canal, connecting the Redentore church with Zattere on Sat (this year it fell on 18th July). At 7pm , the bridge was opened by the monks of the Redentore church followed by prayers. Venetians, politicians and tourists alike crossed the bridge after that, to Redentore .
In keeping up with the tradition (sadly I don’t own a boat) – we too had traditional Venetian dishes.. one of them was bovoletti with garlic and parsley. Thanks to my friend Bruno, at Pesce Pronto (Rialto) he had them ready made so I did not have to get down to the nasty business of preparing the snails.. I don’t think I would have eaten them later on in the evening if I did.
As the night went on, people started to make their way, staking out spots on Saint Mark’s square, along Zatttere, Punta della Dogana and Riva degli Schiavoni for the fireworks. We took a walk to Zattere around 11pm, to see how crowded it was, we headed back to the Accademia bridge when the fireworks started around 1145pm. It was a magical moment – all the boats on the canal, with lanterns bopping in the water – everyone was out as they waited patiently for the fireworks. The lights dimmed along Zattere and Giudecca, just before it started. It was a damn impressive sight – I must say!
The firework display lasted for 30 mins. We got quite a decent view, standing at the Accademia bridge as we had little children with us visiting and we did not want to risk the jostling and large crowds to cross the pontoon bridge to Giudecca side.
After the fireworks, we headed home, while others – more energetic folks headed towards Lido to party until dawn. I heard that free breakfast was served in Lido!
If you can’t get a good viewing spot for the fireworks, you can look out for entreprising Venetians, offering a window seat in their apartments for a fee.
Tip: for a good view of the fireworks, best place to stand is along the water on Giudecca facing Venice , Punta della Dogana, the water side of Saint Mark’s square and Riva degli Schiavoni. Alternatively Salute church and Accademia bridge are fairly good spots. This may mean though you would have to bring your picnic blanket and hang on to your position from about 7pm!