DURI I BANCHI!
Once a war cry , today a symbol of Venetian resilience.
It can be heard almost everywhere, today, in water-wounded Venice. “Duri i banchi!”, often said with a hard handshake, eye into eye, or written in the many posts in Facebook and Instagram. For a foreigner it sounds strange if not difficult to understand, although the translation is quite simple: hold steady. Among the many English variations (hold fast, stay strong, hang in there, and the typical hold on, subject for many pop songs) this is the one I think gives the best interpretation to the original, ancient meaning, going back to when Venetians fought upon rowing boats. The galleys.
The galleys were the heart of the “Armada”, the Venetian war fleet commanded by Patrician captains and led by the Capitano Generale Da Mar. The “Armada Sottile” (thin army), used exclusively in war, was composed mostly by the “thin galleys”, the wooden “galere sottile” 40 metres by 8, that could be launched at a maximum attack speed of almost 12 knots by the mere strength of 150 pair of arms.
The technique was the simplest: ram into the enemy ship doing the maximum damage possible, then board, jump on the opponent’s bridge and fight. Simple and very effective, as seen in the Lepanto battle in which the pride of the Ottoman fleet was destroyed.
When the ramming order was given, “hold fast” acquired a well defined meaning. Especially in the oarsmen banks, who had to suffer the maximum force of impact. Thus, “Hold hard to the benches” was the last order given to the oarsmen. Considering the fact that the venetian fleet’s oarsmen were mostly free men (contrarily to the Ottoman fleet, a fact which contributed to the Christian fleet victory), the order had the meaning of a war cry.
But “Hold fast” was meant for all, oarsmen and soldiers, officers and teen ager patricians freshly embarked, thus eliminating all social and hierarchical differences. We are all in the same boat, a philosophy that was one of the secrets of the more than millenary success of the Venetian Republic.
Today the same motto, the same war cry is heard around Venice notwithstanding social or economical differences. we are all Venetians, all together in fighting our ancient friend/enemy, water. Al together in helping each other. All together sitting on those hard benches and rowing to save not only our city, but all the values that have made her unique.
In the end, we shall win this war for survival. If you join us.
So, one more time ad all together, Duri i banchi!