Venice, or "La Serenissima," is Italy’s salon for art and culture if ever there was one. Besides being notable for its architectonic and scenic beauties, this lagoon city has also been the protagonist of Italian art and culture since the Doges’ rule, when both the Marine Republic and publishing were born. The city’s millenary history of culture gave to the world a great bequest, i.e. the Venice Biennale. The Biennale di Venezia in Italian, the event in its present form comprises several expositions.
It first began as a cultural society with the organization of the first (in the world!) Biennale Art Exposition, in 1895. Created to stimulate and inspire artistic creativity and provide an art market for Venice and for Italy, the Biennale’s objective to this day is the promotion of new artistic movements and trends. In order to fulfill this objective, it organizes several international events in the name of the contemporary arts. They are: the International Art Exhibition, the International Festival of Contemporary Music, (founded in 1930), the International Theatre Festival (1934), the International Architecture Exhibition (1980), the International Festival of Contemporary Dance (1999) and the Venice Film Festival (1932) .
The Art and Architecture Biennials, held in alternating years, take place mainly in the Venice Giardini (otherwise known as the Gardens of the Biennale). Twenty-nine pavilions from as many countries, plus the Padiglione Centrale (formerly known as the Padiglione Italia), host the event’s principle exhibit. After only its first few years, the Art Biennial added the monumental buildings of the Arsenale Shipyard to its regular exhibition spaces. Today the Biennale covers about 17,000 sq. m. (182,986 sq. ft) in total, with autonomous side events that run throughout Venice’s six neighborhoods or sestieri.
The Venice Film Festival, rather, makes its home in the Palazzo del Cinema, at the Lido di Venezia. Originally inaugurated as a non-competitive showcase, today it awards a prestigious international prize: the Leone d’Oro or Golden Lion, the city symbol that also gleams atop the Basilica di San Marco. Venice’s international film fest has weaved together its own history with the “seventh art” (although it sometimes appears to be more of a glitzy social scene for the rich and famous than an artistic event). After the Fascist Ventennio, the awarding of the coveted Golden Lion to propagandistic films was no longer imposed, and the Festival took on the true artistic tones that were in order: the age of Neorealism had arrived, and Roberto Rossellini and Luchino Visconti became known to the world. Other deserving international directors like Orson Welles and Fritz Lang also shared the stage, and in later years Asian cinema, especially Japanese works, came into the spotlight. Obviously, the Venice Film Fest was transforming into a launchpad for new talents.
The name Biennale derives from the fact that the various exhibits happen every two years (taking turns each year, with the exception of the annual Film Fest); the word has by now become synonomous for an important and repeating international event. The International Art Exhibition and the Venice Film Fest are the longest-running, still-existing events of their kind in the world today.