Four places to visit for the birthday of Venice

Venezia is said to turn 1592 years on 25 March 2013, the legend says. Which are the four places in the lagoon you should know that are connected with the birth of Venice? And what has become of the mysterious Malamocco island, where the first doges resided, and other centers of the lagoon such as Torcello which were inhabited even before the Rivus Altus nucleus (today’s Venice) was urbanized? In our time, you can still visit three places I am mentioning: Rialto, San Zaccaria, and Torcello,  while the forth – Malamocco – is a mythical place from which the small village of Malamocco in the southern part of the Lido, as well as the bocca di porto di Malamocco (inlet nto the lagoon) have taken over the name.

Malamocco simply disappeared under the waters of the lagoon

But let us start with our visit honoring the birthday of Venice to the first centrally located place connected with the birthday legend. Legend has it that on 25 March 421, the first stone was laid to build the eldest church in Venice, the church of San Giacomo di Rialto. Just next to it and further into the labryrinth of callie calleselle you will (re-)discover a great market place with delicacies  from the Veneto and fresh produce from the lagoon islands, let alone the fish market.

From the Rialto bridge we get a good overview of the market area before us
Step down from the Rialto bridge, go straight ahead, pass a flower store, and to your left a small square opens up where the Church of Sian Giacomo di Rialto was built …
San Giacometto

The Rialto (Rivus Altus) location was chosen to build a permanent settlement as these islands grounds were rather solid and constantly above the water level, and were following a natural river bed (the Canal Grande), so therefore not flooded by the tides that enter and rush out of the lagoon twice a day.

25 March means that the birthday of Venice is defined near the time when spring is marking the beginning of the warm season, and just 25 days after the offical year in Venice began (the Venetian calendar started on 01 March and not on 01 January).

25 March is precisely the Giorno dell’Annunciazione alla Vergine Maria. On the other hand, 25 March also was the day dedicated to the goddess Venus, the deity of beauty. Of course one may interpret these facts accordingly. 25 March as birthday of Venezia was passed on by the historian Marin Sanudo (1466-1536). Actually, last year, his book on “De Origine, situ e magistratibus Urbis Venetiae” was re-published by a Venetian research center on medevial history, the Centro Cicogna.

Almost at the same time, when the legendary construction of this first church of Venice took place, with the ensuing development of the Rialto area into the economic and commercial center of Venice, and the banking center later on, the marshy grounds of the islands that were to become the first permanent vegetable gardens and orchards in Venice, the brolo, were solidified. To read more about the first garden, please follow this link to my Brolo article.

In the year 811, as a sign that  “le Venetiae” were becoming one urban area, the doges who had first resided on the Malamocco island off Pellestrina island, moved towards the center of the lagoon, as this central area was not so exposed to tides and other enemy sieges. So in 828, the San Marco political center with the doge’s wooden palace and house church (which were to become the Doge’s Palace and Basilica di San Marco later on), but dedicated to San Teodoro first, was built on the territory urbanized and still belonging to the monastery of San Zaccaria.

Campo San Zaccaria today, behind this facade is the former monastery complex

With small communities settling in on various islands not yet interconnected or at most connected haphazardly, Venice as one settlement slowly began to emerge, with several places flourishing, the first of which were Rialto and San Zaccaria. And then in 1161, the catastrophe really happened, an exceptionally high tide is said to have submerged and destroyed the island of Malamocco.

Since I was a child I have been fascinated with the fate of the island of Metamaucus – Malamocco. It is said to have been located just off the village of Malamocco on the Lido, where remnants of ceramics have been found on the sea bed. So there is the Museum of Malamocco hosted in the village’s Palazzo del Podestà on the Lido, where you might want to visit if you are interested in Lagoon archelology.

Malamocco Nova is surrounded by a canal on three sides. It has a few excellent trattorie and of course might become a center of an archeological park of the southern lagoon
the first Malamocco must have been out there in the distance

Please click here to learn more about the Museo di Malamocco where you can discover for yourselves a bit of lagoon archeology. The boat ride you can see in the video below actually takes a route where the mysterious island of Malamocco has been located.

The forth place connected with the birth of Venice as a town in the midst of the lagoon is Torcello, and the Rivus Altus islands really became strengthened when most inhabitants of Torcello moved there.

A view from the Campanile of the church Santa Maria Assunta (not accessible for the time being as it is being renovated)
This is the church of Santa Fosca (built in the 9th century AD)

Torcello had been the first island in the lagoon, rather near its northern rim, that the inhabitants of Altino fled to after the barbarian invasions in the 5th century AD. And what it looked like then can be easily taken in today: reeds, marshes, but soon livened up with fields, salt fields and fishermen huts, orchards and the defining tamerix trees which to me represent the typical trees lining the canals and river beds on Torcello. And imagine that in the tenth century the island counted 10,000 inhabitants!!

Torcello with the tamerix shrubs (to the left) in May, still with the odd pink blossom

By the way, I love visiting Torcello in late April when all the tamerix trees are in bloom – so the open grassy area next to the Church of Santa Maria Assunta is surrounded by tamerisks wearing pink flowers, just the right place to take the sun in peace and quiet on a (hopefully) warm spring day. But one could of course go to Torcello for Easter Monday when the Italian families make their traditional “Pasquetta” excursion to enjoy the fresh green spring nature.

Tamerix trees in Torcello on the left, to the right are private gardens and reeds where wild ducks are breeding in spring

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