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The roses of Venice: between modernity and tradition

The roses of Venice: between modernity and tradition

May 2022

What’s the relationship between roses and Venice? In today’s article we will walk you through the special liaisons that for centuries have bound our city with the most loved spring flower, the rose.

The tradition of the St. Mark’s rosebud

On April 25th Venice celebrates St. Mark’s day, patron saint of the city. This date is also characterized by a strong tradition that comes to life every year: Venetians offer a red rosebud (the bòcolo, in dialect) to their beloved, as a symbol of their indissoluble love.

Where does this curious tradition come from? The most accredited legend tells about the tragic love story of two young lovers. Tancredi, a young man of humble origins, falls madly in love with Maria, daughter of Doge Orso I Partecipazio (in office between 864 and 881). The Doge, aiming for a more convenient marriage for his daughter, does not acknowledge the relationship between the two. That’s why Tancredi, to show himself brave in the eyes of Maria’s father, decides to join Charlemagne’s army.

On the battlefield he proves himself courageous and leads the troops, together with Orlando and other paladins, to defeat the Moors several times. Nonetheless, betrayed by his own impetus, during a battle he deadly falls into a rosebush. Thus the only thing that returned to Venice was a rosebud dyed with Tancredi’s own blood. Devastated by the news, Maria was found lifeless the day after, precisely on April 25th.

bocolo di san marco

The rosa moceniga: a world-famous fragrance

For over two centuries, the rosa moceniga has bloomed in the rose gardens of Villa Mocenigo in Alvisopoli, in the province of Venice. It is a rare variety from China, made known to Lucietta Mocenigo, wife of Count Alvise Mocenigo, by Napoleon’s sister, Joséphine Bonaparte. Lucietta fell in love with its elegant notes and decided to grow the species in her garden.

Nowadays, the rosa moceniga is used by the famous artistic perfumery brand The Merchant of Venice to produce its best seller: a fragrance requested and purchased all over the world for its delicate yet decisive notes. If you would like to appreciate this truly unique fragrance firsthand, we suggest a visit to the incredible Spezieria all’Ercole d’Oro, dating back to 1650 and restored in 1848.

Andrea di Robilant’s novel “Sulle tracce di una rosa perduta” (in English, “On the trail of a lost rose”), published in 2020, is also inspired by the rosa moceniga.

After having seen it for the first time in the Venetian area, the author leaves for a very peculiar journey in search of the origins of the rosa moceniga. The journey takes him from the famous rose gardens of Malmaison Castle, home to the Empress Joséphine Bonaparte, to a rustic Friulian garden, where 1400 species of ancient roses are grown.

During his journey, the author meets experts, botanists, but also mere enthusiasts thanks to whom he discovers secrets, anecdotes and scientific news about the most appreciated flower in the world.

rosa moceniga

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