Lo Sposalizio del Mare – the Marriage to the Sea

Every year at Ascension Day (Ascensione di Cristo, or “Festa della Sensa” as the Venetians say, it is celebrated in May) the Republic of Venice celebrates itself but also it’s intimate relationship to the sea.

In the age of Renaissance the head of state, called the Doge, would be rowed out to the island Sant Elena in a boat. Upon entering the open sea, he would throw a golden ring in to the water as a sign of matrimony to the Mediterranean Sea.

This tradition stopped when the independent republic dissolved in the so called Fall of the Republic in 1797. Since the 1960’s Venice has picked up the tradition and the ritual is enacted anualy by the mayor of Venice.

The tradition is believed to be more then 1.000 years old and probably has origins in even older pagan rituals. There are various related stories and rituals of sacrificial offerings to the sea, often with the intent of making it more lenient for sea travels.

Painting by Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal) from 1745

See the respective Wikipedia article here.

Mazu: Taoist Goddess of the Sea

The bronze statue in the center depicts Mazu or Matsu, the chinese sea goddess, who is particularly popular in Taiwan and Chinese communities outside of mainland China. This monument is at Chengshan Peak (成山头 Chéngshāntóu), in the harbur city Weihai on the Chinese east coast. According to wikipedia: “Today, Mazuism is practiced in about 1.500 temples in 26 countries around the world, mostly in the Sinosphere or the overseas Chinese communities such as that of the predominantly Hokkien Philippines.” The first mentions of Mazu are from the 10. Century AD.

Vineta: the first mention

Vineta is a mythical sunken city off the German or Polish North Sea Coast. I was suprised to find out that the first mention of Vineta can be found in the travel writings of Ibrahim ibn Yaqub from around 960 CE. According to historians, Ibn Yaqub was a traveler and merchant from a jewish-seraphim family from Spain, who converted to Islam and who traveled extensively through Northern Europe. He wrote in arab and gave the first reliabel accounts of the Polish and Viking societies. He mentions a city called “Weltaba” – in modern Polish “Wełtawa” translates roughly as “place among waves” – and which he describes as the largest city in Europe, close to the sea and with twelve gates, located in the farthest north-west corner of what is today Poland.

There are other accounts about such a northern metropolis from the 10. and 11. Century CE: “The very respected town of Vineta once lay at the mouth of the Oder to the Baltic Sea,” writes Helmold von Bosau (1120 – 1177) in his “Slavic Chronicle”, “which offered the Slavs, Greeks and Saxons living around it a world-famous base. Of all the cities in Europe, it was certainly the largest and inhabited by many peoples. In terms of manners and hospitality you could not find more decent and kind-hearted people than there. Rich in goods from all countries, that city had all amenities.”

But mentions cease after around 1.170 CE. Today it is assumed that Vineta, or Weltaba, is not one city but rather that the myth actually combines the historic events around two cities and political centers of that era: Jaromarsburg (Arkona) and Wolin or Vimne. Both cities were either destroyed or deserted at the beginning of the 11. Century CE and both were powerful and wealthy cities. It took another 600 years for Vineta to reappear on several maps, but this time as a myth or a historical speculation.

Drawing from a swedish map from 1693.

For more information see also here and here (both German)
and the other posts in this blog.