In Venice the night of the third Saturday in July is known as la notte famossissima, and it is, for many Venetians, the highlight of the annual Festa del Redentore (Feast of the Redeemer).
The Festa del Redentore marks the ending, in the summer of 1577, of a particularly virulent outbreak of the plague, which, in the course of two years, claimed 50,000 lives (almost a third of the total population of the city).
From late afternoon a myriad of assorted boats begins to gather in the Bacino di San Marco to claim the best places for the evening's fireworks display. The boating parties are armed with picnic baskets, bottles of wine and plenty of patience, for the display doesn't start until 23.30.
I joined the landlubbers, who started to gather as early as mid-evening, and opted for a bench in front of the Giardini Napoleonici. I then spent an entertaining couple of hours watching the police and the public vying for the upper hand in terms of where and where not to sit.
The first firework exploded in the sky precisely on time and the whole display lasted forty minutes.