The crazy and fun Vogalonga Festival in Venice, Italy
The mosaic of boats, people, water worthy of Canaletto that is the Vogalonga is a protest-turned-annual fiesta that could only happen in the romantic city of Venice.
The Vogalonga, “long row, Venetian style”, was established in 1974 to oppose the use of motor-driven transport on the Venetian lagoon. Think of it as a waterborne bicycle versus motorcar protest. As the local paper says, it is “festa e proteste”, a protest that has become a party, but not a political one.
This year, the 44th iteration of the event, more than 2,100 boats with over 8,300 participants from all over the world propelling them, once again brought Venetian traffic to a stand-still, with the
vaporetti (waterbuses) and water-taxis reduced to watching a more traditional mode of transport take over on a sunny Sunday morning. Normal service was not resumed until 3pm that afternoon.
Starting in Bacino San Marco, the boats wound round Sant’Elena on the eastern tip, then paddled around the islands of Vignole, Sant’Erasmo and San Francesco del Deserto. Halfway through the 30-kilometre course, the rowers reached Burano, and after flanking the islands of Mazzorbo, Madonna del Monte and San Giacomo in Paludo, headed to Murano via its Grand Canal. They then proceeded to Venice along the Canale di Cannereggio to get to the Grand Canal. From there they reached their final destination at Punta della Dogana opposite San Marco.
From protest to annual festa
Originally, a small group came up with the idea of a non-competitive rowing event as a form of protest against the deterioration of the city and the adverse effects of wave motion caused by motor traffic in the lagoon. Those in favour of reinstating Venetian boating traditions were invited to join the cause, and as Corriere della Sera reporter, Sandro Meccoli, would define them, “A small group of Venetians, tired of ‘chatting and hearing chitchat’ about the lot of the city and her lagoon, have called her citizens to take up arms as they have always done so; with their oars.”
That original small group has now become a United Nations of the rowing fraternity with rowers from all over the world taking part in boats of vastly differing types and sizes: gondolas, canoes and kayaks, gigs, stand-up paddle boards, sculls, rowing boats of all sorts, traditional and novelty, along with a whole variety of traditional Venetian boats – the sandolo, mascareta, caorlina, topa, peata, vipera, and the s’ciopon. Indeed, so many were taking part, fighting wind and tide as the procession moved towards the northern lagoon, that at certain spots along the route, gridlock ensued with a veritable logjam as oars and paddles became entwined.
There was plenty of shouting in many languages, calls for water, backing down, crabs, easy off, and one or two “hold it up” emergency stops which came too late as novices and professionals became entangled, and even one or two spills into the lagoon. But no road rage followed, everyone was out to have fun and enjoy the day London Marathon-style. This was the Vogalonga 2018, where the oar overcame the engine as rowers of all ages, shapes and sizes took to the water in a moving mosaic befitting Canaletto.
There was plenty of shouting in many languages, calls for water, backing down, crabs, easy off, and one or two “hold it up” emergency stops which came too late as novices and professionals became entangled, and even one or two spills into the lagoon.