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julho 07, 2005


Return of the Bucintoro to the Molo on Ascension Day 1732

State barge. L/B/D: 143.7 × 23.9 × 27.6 (43.8m × 7.3m × 8.4m). Hull: wood. Comp.: 168 oarsmen. Built: Arsenale, Venice; 1728.
In 1100, the Venetian Doge Pietro Orseolo began the consolidation of Venetian power with the defeat of Dalmatian pirates who had long infested the Adriatic trade routes. As the power of the Most Serene Republic grew, her annual rite of the blessing of the sea evolved into a more complex and elaborate ceremony by which Venice was spiritually wed to the Adriatic. The sposalizia—literally, the wedding—annually took place on Ascension Day, the anniversary of the departure of Orseolo's fleet. The Doge, his retainers, members of the clergy, and the various ambassadors to Venice would put out in the Bucintoro, rowed by 168 oarsmen pulling on 42 oars. After the blessing of the ring by the Patriarch of San Elena, the Bucintoro would continue past the Lido, and the Doge would drop the marriage ring into the Adriatic with the words: "Disponsamus te, Mare, in signum veri perpetuique dominii" (We wed thee, Adriatic, as a sign of our true and perpetual dominion). The presence of ambassadors ensured that this was no idle covenant, and indeed the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III, among others, sought permission for his ships to pass through the Adriatic.
Just when the sposalizia formally began is unknown. There was a ritual blessing of the Adriatic in Orseolo's time, and this would have taken on added importance following his victory over the pirates. Two centuries later, in 1177, the stature of Venice was further enlarged with Pope Alexander III's official recognition of her role in mediating a long-standing dispute between the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire. "Bucintoro" is also of uncertain origin. One theory is that it refers to a figurehead combining elements of a cow and a centaur. It may also be a corruption for either ducentorum, meaning a boat carrying 200 men, or cinto d'oro, meaning girdled with gold, as the later vessels certainly were. The last of the state barges to bear the name Bucintoro was built in 1728. In addition to the sposalizia, she was also used for important ceremonies of state. Her end came in 1797 when the French seized the Republic of Venice. In a rite of ritualistic humiliation, General Napoleon Bonaparte ordered his troops to melt down the gold decoration and destroy the barge's adornments. The hull was spared and fitted out as a floating battery in the Austrian Navy. The renamed Hydra may have remained in service until 1824.
Senior, "Bucentaur."

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