The Festa del Redentore – Festival of the Redeemer – is one of the most popular of local festivals held in one of the world’s greatest cities, Venice. Taking place over the third weekend in July each year, the local Venetian inhabitants celebrate the city’s deliverance from plague in the sixteenth century. Similar to the November festival, La Salute, Il Redentore usually benefits from being held in glorious weather so the Venetians can make the most of the opportunity offered to them to enjoy themselves.
The origins of Il Redentore are remarkably similar to La Salute. Saved from devastation in 1576, having lost 30% of the populace – about 46,000 people, including the artist Titian – to the plague epidemic, the Senate gave thanks by commissioning the renowned architect Palladio to design a new church. Finished by 1592, this beautiful domed white church on the island of Giudecca is considered to be one of Palladio’s greatest achievements, dominating the island upon which it stands. The authorities declared that, every year, Venetians should go over to the island to give thanks for Venice’s survival.
On the third Saturday of July, many local people will spend the day decorating their boats or roof terraces in preparation for the Festival. A pontoon ‘bridge’ of boats, some 330 metres in length, is positioned to straddle the Giudecca canal so that people can walk across to the church to give thanks for the deliverance of the city. In the evening, family parties are either held on the boats whilst long tables are laid out on the banks of the canal for the celebratory festival meal. At between 11.00 and 11.30 pm, the firework display – il foghi – takes place, which is one of Venice’s most eagerly awaited events. The whole of the famous skyline is illuminated for up to an hour with spectacular, colourful displays. Many of the city’s younger people like to congregate at the Lido to watch the fireworks from a distance. Afterwards, the boats make their way through the canals and most people have a very late night. For many, part of the tradition involves watching the dawn rise from the beach at the Lido.
Sunday will see many people crossing to the island for mass. Also very popular is the Redentore Regatta – an exciting, and combative, series of boat and gondola races along the Giudecca Canal. There is also a traditional street market to wander around.
Nowadays, most visitors to Venice arrive by air, although it has become an increasingly popular place for cruise ships to call in. Marco Polo airport has been greatly modernised and is within easy reach of the city itself. In fact, it is quite possible to take a water taxi from the airport into the very heart of Venice. Furthermore, the smaller airport of Treviso is located just a half an hour’s drive away, which benefits from an excellent, cheap bus service to Plaza Roma.
Accommodation is plentiful in the city, although it can be very difficult to find exactly what you’re looking for in July if you leave it late. The train service into Venice is excellent and there are many car parks on the outskirts of the city so travellers who prefer to stay outside the centre will find prices might be slightly lower.
Typical of many of Venice’s traditional festivals, Il Redentore is a beguiling combination of religious devotion and secular enjoyment, with few concerned about any apparent contradictions between the two elements. Seen by many Venetians as the unofficial beginning of their holiday season, this is a time of great celebrations and a joyful time to be in this engaging, irresistible city.