THE HISTORICAL REGATTA OF VENICE
If seems that as early as the 13th century the lagoon was already the scene of regattas for boats manned by up to twenty rowers.
Credence has been given to this by the entry at the foot of an anonymous codes of the period that mentions a regatta rowed along the Grande Canal on 15th September 1247.
In ancient times the City governors used regattas as a means of training and keeping in practice young mens so that they could be employed in the future as rowers on board galleys and warships. However, various theories exist about the origin of these rowing competitions. It may be that market-gardeners who set off from the neighbouring island at dawn tried to be the first to arrive at the market at Rialto with their rowing boats laden with early fruit and vegetables.
Or perhaps young men, vying with one another, rowed in barges, provided by the Arsenale, as far as the Lido for practise in the use of arms. They would set off in line "riga" and this may be the derivation of the word "Regatta". According to legend, however, during the "Festa delle Marie" ( a Mass wedding ceremony) at S. Pietro di Castello, Slav pirates once carried off the brides and their dowries, whereupon the young bridegrooms took to their boats and followed the marauders in furious chase.
Having overtaken the pirates and freed their brides, they raced each other back home. So, every year after the "Festa della Marie" a rowing competition called "Regatta" was held to remember the event.
The traditional "festa" once organized with great pomp and magnificence in honour of illustrious guests or on important anniversaries is still held today. The whole town turns out in every kind of Venetians pleasure-boat to watch the historic procession in rich 16th century costume as it sails along the Grand Canal in memory of celebrated arrival in Venice of Caterina Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus.