Festa del Bocolo , Venezia. Rene Magritte Untitled (Woman's Face covered by a Rose)

Festa del Bocolo - A romantic tradition in Venice

Venice is no doubt one of the most romantic cities in the world and there’s a proverb that says “L’amor no xe brodo de fasoi “ which translates to “Love isn’t a bean soup” meaning “love isn’t something of little importance”.

A traditional celebration called “Festa del Bocolo”, happens every year on the 25th of April and it is rooted in myth and legend, as it often happens with a city that is over 1600 years old.

For centuries, on this day, Venetian men have gifted red roses to their loved ones, but why? And where did this folklore originate from?

Bocolo in Italian means bud, and on this day, rose is the word in town.


The most commonly told legend says the tradition originated from the love story between a young Venetian man named Tancredi and the beautiful Maria (also known as Vulcana for her fiery black eyes), who was the daughter of the Doge Orso Partecipazio who ruled Venice between 864 and 881AD. Tancredi belonged to a lower social caste, so he wasn’t allowed to be with Vulcana with her father vehemently opposing their union.

She then suggested her lover leave for war alongside Charlemagne’s army in the fight against the Moors in Spain in a bid to distinguish himself and thus gain permission to marry upon his return. Tancredi, fought well in the war and his distinguished efforts were reported back to the Venetian high courts but unfortunately, one day during a fight, he was harmed and died, the legend tells, in a white rose garden.
Before he passed, he plucked a rose, red stained with his blood, and gave it to his companion Orlando asking him to bring it to Venice to give it to his beloved as an enduring sign of his love.

Orlando, (the same one remembered in the poem Chanson de Roland) kept his promise and returned to the city on the eve of St. Mark’s Day, delivering the rose to Vulcana, who was devastated by the news of the loss of her loved one. The next morning, on April 25th, the handmaids found Vulcana dead in her bed, holding Tancredi’s rose in her chest.

The news of her death quickly spread around town and since then, every year, men gift red rosebuds to their women as a testament of their love and in memory of this ill-fated love.

Illustration from Wikipedia - attributed to Alessandra Battistel 

The other legend, less popular but still worth remembering, tells of the servant called Basil who had helped Rustico da Torcello and Bono or Tribuno da Malamocco steal the St Mark’s relics from Alexandria in Egypt and bring them back to Venice. According to the tradition, Basil was instrumental in the operation that saw the men hiding the Saint’s relics in a basket containing fruit and pork meat, which was impure to the Muslims, and transporting them via boat back to the city.

As a reward for his contributions, Basil was allowed to bring back with him the rose garden that grew in proximity to the Evangelist’s tomb and upon his return to his house on the island of the Giudecca he planted the roses in his garden.

The roses kept blooming beautifully during his life and continued to do so even after his death but only until there was harmony amongst the family descendants.

Eventually, relationships among his children soured, and the property was divided. The garden kept growing and was left to mark the property boundaries, but the roses stopped blooming entirely.

On the 25th of April of an unspecified year, a girl descending from Basi’s family noticed a boy from a rival family looking at her with interest through the rose garden and a new love was born. The garden started blooming again producing lots of red buds, so the boy picked the most beautiful one, kissed it and handed it to the girl as a sign of his love that ultimately brought peace back to the families and maintained the blossoming of the rose garden.

Since then, Venetian men have given red rosebuds to their loved ones on this day.

The rose gifting was prohibited by Napoleon during the French occupation, but the tradition remained dear to the Venetians and the act of giving a rose during this time became also a symbol of resistance against the French imperialism.

Venetian women carrying red roses - unspecified date put probably early 20th Century

In 2014, the artist Elena Tagliapietra created a visually exciting performance by orchestrating a live installation depicting a human rosebud called “A Rose for Venice”. It was so successful that her work was repeated over the years and it’s now part of the traditional celebrations of the Festa del Bocolo.

Today rosebuds are gifted not only to girlfriends or wifes, but to all women that are dear and important in one's life, like daughters and sisters.

Here’s a timelapse video showing the first rosebud in 2014, seen from the top of St Mark’s bell tower.


 and here's another video showing a little more behind the scenes.


One more traditional thing you can do in Venice on this day in addition to gifting rosebuds, is to eat the typical dish “risi e bisi” or rice with peas.
You can find some recipes ideas and more about this delicious dish here


Rumoured to be introduced during the Byzantine era it was served to the Doges on April 25th because on this same day, Venetians also celebrate San Marco, aka St Mark, who is the saint protector of the city.

But more about this rich history in another chapter.

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