The “Bucintoro” was the ‘State Galley of the Venetian Republic’, used on official occasions by the Doge and by the high offices of the Republic to welcome sovereigns and other illustrious personalities visiting Venice. It was however the superb protagonist of the ancient “Festa della Sensa”, the traditional ‘Marriage of the Sea’, celebrated every year with great pomp.
The oldest written document in which this ‘state ship’ is called Bucintoro dates back to 1252, when Doge Renier Zeno commissioned the Art of the ‘Marangoni’ (ships’ carpenters) to provide for the construction of the ‘Bucentaurum‘, a prescription that was repeated in other ducal ordinances and in writings of ship carpenters of 1271.
An important graphic testimony of the sumptuous boat also appears in the famous “Perspective Plant of Venice” of 1500, engraved by Jacopo de ‘Barbari. Not many years later, in September 1525, Marin Sanudo in his Diaries, writes of a ‘Nuovo Bucintoro’, wider and longer than the old one, which was being built in the Arsenale. It appeared for the first time in the “Festa della Sensa” of 1526: this was the first Bucintoro driven by oars (whereas before it seemed to be towed), in the form that then kept almost unchanged over the centuries. The same shape is portrayed in the numerous engravings and eighteenth-century paintings by Canaletto and Guardi.
The glorious history of the “Bucintoro” ends on 9 January 1798 with a public stake on the Island of San Giorgio, wanted by Napoleon in disregard of that symbol of the hated power of the Serenissima. After looting the gold of the decorations, the hull was converted into a gunboat and then into a floating prison with the name of Hydra.
In 2004 a project was started for the reconstruction of the last Bucintoro. The realization of the work was started in the yards of the Arsenale. The project involved a hull of about 35 m with a maximum width of about 7.30 m. Currently project and construction are stopped due to lack of funds.