The race is preceded by a historical pageant. Nearly 400 people in period costumes parade down Riva dei Sette Martiri and Riva degli Schiavoni, commemorating the deeds of the ancient republics.
Flags and festoons, trumpets and drums, horses and sedan-chairs add glamour to the solemn procession.
Then the race begins: four boats, called "galleons", represent the four seafaring Republics. Each is marked by different colours and figureheads:
deep blue with a winged horse for Amalfi;
white with a winged dragon for Genoa;
crimson with an eagle for Pisa;
emerald green the St. Mark's lion for Venice.
They compete in a two thousand-metre race, each crew bearing their Republic's colours.