Unlike the languages of the other major Italian islands, the Venetian dialect considers the word for the sea, mar, to be feminine. Each year, on Ascension Day, the Venetians marry the sea, symbolically making it their property, and all its possessions – its dowry – their own. Ultimately, from their betrothal to the waves, they gained an empire. So it was that Venice developed a very different relationship with its mar than islands like Sardinia and Sicily did with their own màre and mari.
For Venice, the water that surrounded it was both the protector and the one in need of protection. “They wrapped the sea around them like a cloak,” writes Roger Crowley in City of Fortune: How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire. But to those other great islands, exposed in the open Mediterranean rather than tucked away in a corner of the Adriatic, the sea brought invaders; rapacious mainlanders out to superimpose their own culture over that of the islanders. While Venice harassed the mainland, in the process establishing colonies as far afield as Israel and Egypt, the mainland harassed Sardinia and Sicily.