The Festa del Redentore is an annual celebration that takes place on the third weekend of July, which culminates in an unforgettable fireworks show over the iconic St Mark’s Basin. The origins of the Redentore date back to 1577, when the festival began to commemorate the end of a plague which ravaged Venice, killing about 50,000 people. When the plague finally ended, a majestic church called Il Redentore (The Redeemer) was constructed by the architect Palladio on the island of Giudecca. A temporary bridge is built out of pontoons during the Redentore so that pilgrims can cross the Giudecca canal from the main island to visit the church.
However, the main attraction of the Redentore is the fireworks. As dusk approaches on Saturday, an increasing number of boats, decorated with garlands and balloons, begin to cluster on St. Mark’s Basin in preparation for the show.
The fireworks begin at 11:30pm and go on well past midnight. It was certainly one of the biggest and most impressive fireworks shows I’ve ever seen, but what made it truly special was the fact that it was over the lagoon, the waters of which reflected the colours and explosions of the fireworks and seemed to double the size of the show. The grand finale ends with a wall of green, white, and red fireworks filling up the night sky, in a dramatic explosion of national pride.
In order to truly appreciate the show, it is recommended that one views it from a boat or from a terrace or rooftop somewhere in the city. We were lucky enough to meet a friend with a boat, which I think is the best option as you are truly on the water and can fully appreciate the effect of the reflection of the fireworks on the lagoon. What makes the Redentore fireworks show one of the world’s best isn’t just that it’s held over the water of the lagoon, but because it’s also held in one of the world’s inarguably most beautiful settings, steeped in history and surrounded by timeless architecture.
The Redentore is also one of the only times when it is actually somewhat socially acceptable to take a dip in Venice’s notoriously polluted lagoon. Tourists seem to find taking a swim in the lagoon a funny and novel idea, but any local shudders at the idea when they think about the amount of sewage, pollution, and chemicals its waters contain. In addition, locals have witnessed periods of acqua bassa, when the water level lowers and the trash and random objects littering the floor of the canals become visible. And who knows how many bodies have found their final resting place at the bottom of the Venetian Lagoon. But during the Redentore, anything goes! Plus if you find yourself in a small boat as we did, you have to eventually relieve yourself somewhere, don’t you? Some achieve this by lowering themselves halfway in the water, but I decided to go all the way and dove right in. I developed some sort of raspy cough that lasted several weeks that may or may not have been related to my swimming in the lagoon, but it was worth it.
After the end of the beautiful fireworks show, the boats slowly begin to clear the basin, and those who want to continue the celebration head to the Lido beach, where there are always some big dance parties being thrown. Alternatively, for those who prefer to avoid crowds and cover charges, sitting on the beach and having some wine with friends is a perfectly valid alternative to ending one’s magical Redentore evening.
Check out this cool video of the 2011 Redentore, which is the one I went to:
Here’s the Redentore’s official website.
WHERE: Venice, Italy
WHEN: Every third weekend of July, with the fireworks taking place on Saturday evening.
HOT TIP: Brush up on your Italian and arrive a few days before to network to find someone with a boat or a balcony – who knows, you might get lucky like we did!