Ratto delle Donzelle

Il Ratto delle donzelle


Historical background before the event

During the fifth century, with the fall of the Western Roman Empire, incursions of barbarian populations began in northeastern Italy. The most ferocious attack by the barbarians was by the famous Attila, king of the Huns, who forced the populations of Aquileia, Altino, Oderzo, Concordia and the surrounding countryside, to save themselves in the lagoon area, especially in the area of the “Rio Alto”, a group of islets where nowdays Venice is located.
Since that moment and then for many centuries, the lagoon areas between Veneto and Friuli represented a natural defense for the Republic of Venice against enemies’ attacks from the north and were also exploited to create the so-called “valleys”, closed areas by embankments or barriers within the lagoon which could be used as a fishing reserve for self-sustenance in case of famine or wars.

Before the 10th century, however, the Adriatic Sea was not yet safe for the newly formed Republic of Venice. Between Venice and the nearby coasts of Istria and Dalmatia, occupied by other populations including the Narentani, there were great tensions due to mutual commercial claims and attacks by pirates against Venetian ships along the trade routes were frequent along all the coasts of the Adriatic from Polesine to Zadar.
The “Kidnap of the Brides” happened during that dramatic period when the same existence of the Republic of Venice was in danger: to the detriment of the Venetians there were naval blockades, political alliances between the lands of Istria, the Margrave of Friuli and royals of Hungary, who also aspired to control the upper Adriatic. The defeat of the pirates by the Venetian fleet, aided by the Caorle’s people faithful, certainly helped to guarantee a long period of relative safety for the Republic. In fact, shortly after the episode, in the year 945, was signed the so-called “Pace di Rialto” (Rialto’s peace) and the monopoly of trade routes between Istria and Trieste was recognized to Venice.
Venice will then be able to definitively guarantee control of the Dalmatian coasts after the first half of the 1400s, after 500 years of wars.

The kidnapping of the brides and the revenge of the Venetians

A tradition in Venice, on February 2nd, the feast of the purification of Virgin Mary also knew as the presentation of Jesus at the temple,they used to celebrate all the marriages of noble families at the same time. During the solemn ceremony, the brides presented a casket containing a large dowry and wore a precious trousseau that was specially lent to them by the Republic of Venice.
In 932 some Istrian pirates, led by Gaiolo, discovered that the day before the ceremony the participants would have met at the church of San Pietro a Castello and that during all the celebrations no one would have had weapons with them. They manage to reach the Venetian islands as infiltrate guests for the celebration during the night between 1st and 2nd February, then with a quick attack they steal all the goods and kidnap the 12 girls dressed in their precious outfits and run away with no damage.
The Venetians were shocked for the atack, but without wasting time the Doge Pietro Candiano II  organizes a fleet and began the hunt for pirates. In a short time, and thanks to the help of Caorle’s faithful allies, they were able to catch them at the beach where today PORTO SANTA MARGHERITA is located. Pirates got surrounded by the Venetians and the Caorlotti and, after an epic fight, they were all passed over to arms. The Venetians then manage to return to Venice with the 12 brides and with the treasures of their gifts intact.
This historical episode is at the origin of the oldest Venetian festival still celebrated today, called “Festa delle Marie” and for last 1000 years the place where the battle took place was known as “lido delle damsels” or “port of the damsels” , which today has been renamed as Porto Santa Margherita.