Discover 5 interesting facts about the Venetian tradition of the Festa del Bocolo, a symbol of love and culture in the Serenissima.

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There is a unique atmosphere in Venice on April 25. Feast of St. Mark, the city's patron saint, and Festa del Bocolo are intertwined in a combination of history, romance and tradition. On this day, the city is dyed red. A rosebud, a symbol of eternal love and fidelity, is given by lovers to their partners.

But where does this striking custom originate? Let's discover together the legends, curiosities and events that make the Bocolo Festival a must-see experience for those visiting Venice in spring.

April 25 will also be the first day when the experiment of paid admission to Venice for temporary visitors will start. Other dates and all info are here. 

5 interesting facts about the Festa del Bocolo in Venice

5 interesting facts about the Festa del Bocolo in Venice

Did you know that there is more than one legend behind this romantic tradition? Let's get into the soul of the festival and discover five surprising facts about the Festa de Bocolo.

Every detail of this celebration hides stories and symbols: from the legend of Mary and Tancredi that comes alive in the gift of a red bud, to the mysterious rose bush of love linked to Basil, from the solemn procession in St. Mark's Square to modern human bocolos, to the authentic flavors of Venetian tradition. These details weave the fabric of a festival that is pure essence of the culture and identity of Venice.

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5. The tale of Mary and Tancred

festa del bocolo tale of Mary and Tancred

The first legend from which the tradition of the bòcolo is believed to have originated tells of the love between Tancredi and the young Vulcana, nickname of Maria Partecipazio, daughter of the Venetian patron Orso Partecipazio.

Vulcana, a blond-haired girl from a noble family, was named for her fiery black eyes. Those same eyes had won the young Tancredi, a troubadour from a caste completely different from her own.

To convince her father to accept her marriage to Tancred, Vulcana pushed the young man to go off to war with Emperor Charlemagne against the Moors of Spain. Tancred, who was in love with Vulcana, accepted without hesitation and distinguished himself by his exploits and valor in battle, thus gaining permission to marry a young patrician woman like Vulcana.

One day, however, during a battle, Tancred was wounded and died. Popular tradition has it that the young man spent the last moments of his life in a rose garden: there, before he died, he plucked a rose stained with his blood and asked his companion Orlando (the same as in Chanson De Roland) to take it to Venice to give it to his beloved as a last sign of his love.

Orlando kept his promise and arrived in Venice on the very eve of St. Mark's Day, delivering the rose to Vulcana, who accepted it frozen with grief at the loss of her future husband. The next morning, April 25, St. Mark's Day, Vulcana's handmaids found her dead on her bed with Tancredi's red rose on her chest. Since that day, in memory of this ill-fated love, men have the custom of giving the bud of a red rose to their beloveds.

4. Basil and the rose garden of love

Festa del Bocolo Basil and the rose garden of love

Another legend, however, tells of a certain Basil, a servant who had helped Rustico da Torcello and Bono o Tribuno da Malamocco to steal St. Mark's relics from Alexandria, Egypt. As a reward, Basil had also brought with him part of the rose garden that had grown on the Evangelist's tomb.

Once back in Venice, in his house on the Giudecca, Basil immediately planted roses in his garden, which continued to flourish even after his death, but only as long as there was harmony among his descendants. When discord began among Basil's family members, the plant stopped blooming, although it continued to grow.

Everything changed on April 25 of an unspecified year, when a girl from the family of Basil's descendants noticed a young man from the rival family looking at her with interest. A love was immediately born between the two. From that moment, the rose garden bloomed again, and the boy threw a rosebud to the girl as a sign of love.

In memory of this event, Venetians began to give a red rosebud as a gift on St. Mark's Day.

3. The Procession in St. Mark's Square

2024205239-festa del bocolo Processione in piazza San Marco.jpg

St. Mark is also celebrated on April 25, the day of the Bocolo Festival. The tradition of celebrating St. Mark in a lavish manner every April 25 dates back to the era of the Serenissima. A famous painting by Gentile Bellini from the late 15th century, preserved in the Accademia Galleries depicts this tradition.

In the painting a long procession can be seen with the Doge at the head. He is preceded only by flag bearers, trumpeters and symbols of the Serenissima.

Then follow characters dressed in white, carrying candles and a canopy, and they are the members of the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista, for whom the painting was originally intended. In the center of the scene, in a slightly lower position, can be seen the chest containing the Saint's relic.

Today, the Feast of St. Mark is less lavish than it used to be and has mainly a religious character. It includes a solemn mass in St. Mark's Basilica and Vespers in the late afternoon.

On April 25, the St. Mark's Award ceremony is also held to highlight the excellence of Venice. Winners are awarded in the Sala del Maggior Consiglio in the Doge's Palace in the presence of the mayor.

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An exciting artistic performance paid tribute to the Festa del Bocolo in 2014. In St. Mark's Square, Elena Tagliapietra's work "A Rose for Venice" came to life.

Hundreds of people, dressed in red, arranged themselves to form an immense rosebud, visible only from above. An evocative image that immortalized the love for the city and the tradition of Bòcolo.

The work, a symbol of unity and passion, was so successful that it was replicated in subsequent years, becoming an icon of the Bocolo Festival.

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During the Festa del Bocolo in Venice, in addition to giving away the rosebud, a typical dish was enjoyed: 'risi e bisi', or rice with peas. According to tradition, this soup was introduced to Venice during the Byzantine era and was served to the Doges on April 25.

Take the opportunity to also enjoy other specialties of Venetian cuisine such as baccalà mantecato, lasagnette al nero di seppia, and sarde in saor. During a walk through the center, be sure to try the delicious fritoe, tasty sugar-coated raisin fritters.

What to do at Festa del Bocolo 2024

St. Mark's Square - Festa del bocolo 2024

During the Festa del Bocolo 2024, the cultural fabric of Venice is enriched with unmissable events. Once again this year it will be possible to see the human Bocolo in St. Mark's Square. The event is scheduled for 12:00 noon. Then, in the afternoon, at 4:00 p.m. the bells of all the churches in Venice will ring festively, an opportunity to immerse yourself in the solemn atmosphere of the festive city. But the traditional spectacle of the Feast of St. Mark will take place all day long, culminating at 5 p.m. with the presentation of the St. Mark's Award in the prestigious Doge's Palace.

Venice has much to offer, wandering around its streets and canals it is almost impossible not to be captivated by such beauty. To make your visit richer and more interesting consider hiring an experienced guide to get to know Venice as a local and beyond.

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