Venice is so quiet, and the water is turquoise and crystal clear. Several times last week on social media, surprising images were shared, such as the ones showing millions of fish born in the Venetian canals during the past week! Continue reading
Did you see the first post in our blog series on the Venetian way of life, and why small squares (corti) play a unique and essential role?Continue reading “The Beauty of Venice 2 Healing Neighborhood”
Early fall is a boon for gardeners in Venice. Rainy weather and cooler temperatures allow plants and vegetables to thrive in the moist Lagoon. Farther south, for example on the Amalfi Coast, autumn is considered a second spring – la primavera in autunno. That’s also true for Venice to some extent.
Early fall is the main harvest season and Venice is brimming with colorful produce. But the colors we can see in early autumn must be nothing compared to what harvesting time looked like for more than 1000 years in our town, until the early 18th century.
300 years ago, you would have seen manufacturing sites in all parts of Venice that may well be called factories, using tons of blossoms to make ointments, soap, essential oils and flower waters. Blossoms were used to make herbal remedies and distilled to flavor sugar (no Venetian noblemen would have eaten plain sugar 300 years ago !!). In particular, Venetians loved sucaro a la lavanda – lavender sugar, or rose and violet-flavored cane sugar to sweeten drinks, cookies and cakes.
As the noble families used the blossoms from their gardens for their own purpose, the Venetian factories needed to look for blossoms elsewhere. They needed flowery ingredients in addition to spices, dried herbs and roots arriving from the Levant, Far East and Africa. So Venice involved its population in growing flowers …
Families with no garden plots of their own seized this opportunity to earn a living and cultivated edible flowers (herbs and shrubs) wherever they found a public corner. Fragrant urban gardening developed and blossoms were harvested simply everywhere and delivered to the factories to make soaps and perfumes.
Venice must have been a very fragrant city when public space was used like this. Most campi weren’t covered with cobblestones but consisted of meadows and lawns !! Even Piazza San Marco was a lawn until the 14th century.
These meadows called campazzi or broli (depending on their location in town) were used as a sort of commons. They were used to grow orchards and for domestic animals like poultry and pigs to run free and feed on. Venice was indeed a very self-sufficient town !!
In the area where i grandi alberghi now line the Grand Canal (Monaco e Grand Canal, Westin Grand Hotel, Bauer Gruenwald), a big vineyard was located. In the 12th century, these herb gardens and orchards extended well into the reedy district of Cannaregio (canna means “reeds”).
A “relic” of the campazzi is Campiello de’ Squelini. You can’t miss it on your way from Ca’ Foscary University to Campo San Barnaba.
What happened to all these fragrant areas in town? Everything changed after the fall of the Republic in 1797. Many canals were filled up and now you find places in Venice called rio terrà (filled-up canal). The area of Venice grew by was one fourth (!!) to house workers with the onset of the industrial era. Mulino Stucky was such a factory needing workforce. Making perfumes, medicines and flower water simply wasn’t the focus of Venice anymore. No demand, no supply. Venice had lost her soul, she became an indistinct city first and her main vocation seemed to be “tourism”.
Perhaps times are changing once again. The borders between private and public space in Venice are vanishing and “green zones” belonging to passers-by and inhabitants are being created. The public orchards on Campo San Giacomo dall’ Orio are such an example. Now you can see that to Venice, “modern” concepts of urban, guerilla or neighborhood gardening certainly aren’t really new.
Venice was once a huge edible flower garden … Partly unkempt areas teeming with reeds and little lakes in the midst of town were normal in the 12th century. These lakes were called le piscine (pools) and their presence resounds to this day in street names like Piscina Frezzeria.
Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.
Every single spot was used to grow something. As Venice was into the spice industry, spezieri used not only the ingredients delivered from the Levant, Asia and Africa, but also grew spices themselves – in Venice. Plus they needed lots of blossoms and aromatic herbs !!
The Venetian beauty industry was in full swing by the 13th century. Saponifici (soap factories) spread to every part of Venice just like in the 15th century, the zuccherifici (cane sugar refineries) would. These industries needed herbs and blossoms to enrich cosmetics and their sugar mixtures. No Venetian nobleman would have eaten his sugar without flavoring it with herbs, blossoms and spices !!
So you see how much wisdom and how many recipes we’re lacking today !!! Gardens were used for many purposes here, complete self-sufficiency was obtained. People grew spices and herbs like Michiel did in his world-famous botanical garden in the 15th century. They used the blossoms to make drinks, soaps, cosmetics and medical remedies. People grew and harvested blossoms and spices wherever they could find a good spot to grow them, also in public areas like the campazzi and sold their flowers to the soap and sugar manufacturers.
Campazzi were jointly used green areas between the buildings, not just to feed poultry an animals but also to grow blossoms and sell them to the cosmetics industry. As early as the 14th century, Venice introduced cosmetics in Europe and was one huge healing garden herself …
By the 14th century, Venice was the town in Europe boasting the largest number of botanical gardens, for everyone loved experimenting with plants, and they were required by the cosmetics, beauty and perfumery industry of the Venetian Republic.