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Feast of the Marys

Maybe the oldest festival in Venice. It seems to have been established between 932 and 944.

Let us first of all shed light on the historical context that Venice was experiencing:The Young Venetian Republic was in a moment of great tension. On the one hand the Istrians who imposed blockades and political alliances, on the other the Friulians and the Hungarian royalty who aspired to the hegemony of the Adriatic Sea. The existence of Venice was really at risk. The victory against the pirates (if you continue reading you will discover what happened) can help to secure Venice.In 945 the "Peace of Rialto" was signed, and Venice was granted the monopoly of trade routes in Istria and Trieste. After about 500 years of wars, around 1400, Venice will guarantee the control of the coasts of Dalmatia (current Yugoslav Republic)

Not everyone knows that the feast of the Marie, the collateral event that we admire during the Carnival of Venice, recalls a pirate episode fortunately foiled.

It is said that every 31 January all couples who wanted to arrange a wedding would come to the Cathedral of San Pietro in Castello to celebrate their wedding. After the ceremony it was customary to celebrate throughout the city. That year, unfortunately, the festival was ruined by an invasion of Istrian pirates led by certain Gaiolo who broke into the church, killed many of those present and kidnapped young women.

The Venetians caught by surprise were absolutely not ready to fight but in less than 24 hours with the help of the nearby Caorlotti discovered the pirates in the vicinity of Caorle and assaulted them in what will be called "Lido delle Donzelle" currently known as Porto Santa Margherita.

The young brides were rescued and their gifts recovered.

From that day every 2 February, Feast of the purification of Mary, the "Feast of the Marys" was established. In addition to the blessing of married couples there was a draw of 12 girls chosen among the most beautiful of poor families. Despite the festive atmosphere that lasted for days, unfortunately it happened more and more often that the girls were courted, and unfortunately sometimes raped by men who flocked to see them.In addition, the Marie draw caused friction between families (poor and rich).The girls were gradually replaced by 12 wooden images (Marie de Tola *) that were paraded around the city. Due of this novelty the festival became less and less interesting for the population and in 1379 it was definitively cancelled.

The historical re-enactment of the Marie was reintroduced after a few centuries during the Carnival of Venice. Every year 12 Venetian girls are selected (between 18 and 28 years) that between social events and historical evocations, a jury will decide the winner on Shrove Tuesday. The winning Maria will play the Queen of Cyprus Caterina Cornaro, the first Sunday of September during the Historical Regatta.

* the word "Tola" in the Venetian dialect was also used as a term to describe in an unkind way all those women without breasts.

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