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.

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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.

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