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”
This is the first in a series of secret glimpses, explaining Venice from a different point of view: Venezia, The Humane City. It’s a virtual journey around our city, exploring her strenghts, cultivated and sometimes, lost, during 1600 years. Keep on reading!
When you look at the way public and private green spots in Venice are arranged, you may even determine how old the place (and sometimes, garden) is. Very often, you can decode the age of gardens based on the three stages of garden history in Venice: Early lagoon gardens, Gardens during the Republic of Venice, and Gardens in the 19th century. Each time the gardens looked different, but fulfilled the same purposes: they represented places of leisure, sources of beauty and self-sufficient life.
In the last five years or so, another stage or “forth season” may be added: i giardini rivistati, gardening re-visited, discovering long-lost and half-forgotten know-how, traditions and lifestyle, when gardening played a major role in life. Just consider terms like “urban gardening”, “guerilla gardening”, “neighborhood gardening”, this is what gardening re-visited is called in other parts of Europe.
Stage 1: A campazzo in laguna (Torcello), VERY old because inhabited already in the 4th century AD, consisting of land mark trees, meadows, benches, olive trees.. and in former times, vegetable gardens. It is unpaved for most of its area.
This means that the “gardening threads” are taken up exactly where they were left at more than 100 years ago. Campi are becoming greener as flower beds, trees and even herb and vegetable corners (on some) have been popping up these last few years. Islands that were originally dedicated to gardening, like Giudecca and Murano, now begin taking up their former traditions.
Stage One “Campazzi e Broli” means that vegetable gardens and orchard plots were available in Venice simply everywhere, taking center stage, on the islands as well as in Venice. Also, where the hotels now line the Grand Canal (Hotels Monaco e Grand Canal, Westin Grand Hotel, Bauer Gruenwald..), in the 10th century, a big vineyard was located, but its area diminished gradually. In the 12th century, green “campazzi” (campi only partly cobbled or not at all) provided enough space for trees, fruit trees, herb gardens and were slowly extending beyond the reedy and swampy district of Cannaregio (canna meaning “reeds”) where they were tended by the monasteries.
Nowadays, most campi and campielli have been paved, while at the beginning, they were – broli, that is to say, orchards, vegetable and herb gardens. This is Campiello Squelini: There are still a few campi in Venice where green spots have been spared ..
A “relic” of stage 1 in town is Campiello dei Squelini. You cannot miss it, you pass it when you walk from the Ca’ Foscary University towards Campo San Barnaba. Venice .. or somewhere in the countryside – another view of quiet Campiello dei Squelini in May: Here, ceramic works and mosaics were produced back in the middle ages, there was also a furnace – so it is a very old place .
In Stage 2, many gardens were moved “inside”, into courtyards or backyards (this is how corti and corti private developed). At the beginning of the 12th century, the first palace gardens were created in town, as Venetian tradesmen brought back from their voyages a host of valuable tropical and even nordic plants to experiment with. So by the 15th century, Venice became the hub of botanical gardening in Europe.
Look at this example of courtyard garden, beautifully tucked away and enveloped by trees, shrubs and creepers, American vines. This courtyard belongs to a hotel I already described in this blog and will come back again and again, aptly named Hotel Flora. Space is used to grow plants in an ideal manner, including the facades, creating a cooler climate in summer, but which also confers to the place a very enchanted atmosphere.
Or even, when courtyards are broader and more airy, there are water basins and places in the corner where to grow vegetables, or fruit trees. Pomegrate trees are often the choice here.. Look at the example of Hotel Belle Arti, the picture of which you can see above: located on the Rio tera Foscarini.
This brings us to the third stage: to the times after the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797, many canals were filled up, creating the rii terrà (literally filled-up canals). So more space was created – for whatever purpose. At that time, Strada Nova was created under the Austrian rule, so between 1812 and 1871, houses were torn down to open up this avenue in order to connect the newly created train station with Rialto and San Marco. Gardening then was back to self-sufficiency, but at a price.
Wide avenues in Venice were opened up in the 1800s – this is the San Leonardo area / Strada Nova, and were – are still used for street markets
You can recognize the space created in the 19th century not only because these new areas are very wide and airy, but often because they bear telltale signs .. see below, this is Campo Sant’Agnese, where you see the upper part of where the canal, now filled in, went .. right under the Gesuati church.
So in Stage 3, that is in the 19th century, the Venetian urban landscape (tessuto urbano) was changed considerably, filling up entire canals and thus deviating water, which may not have been entirely of help when we take into account the acqua alta perils. So the area in town rose by one forth (!!). After the fall of the Republic, many inhabitants of Venice were very poor, so sometimes construction sites were opened to provide work and income to the Venetians.
These days, we have arrived at Stage 4 – gardening re-visited: The ancient know-how of Stage 1 is unconsciously coming back, or as Spiazzi Verdi has is, Torna l’aia in laguna. Aia means “the commons”. Private vegetable plots now start “overflowing” into public space, where not only flower gardens tended by the inhabitants grow profusely, but also herb gardens and vegetable plots (to see examples of how stage 4 is now taking over in Venice, take a look at my blog post on Urban Gardening in Venice).
As of now, the borders between private and public space are vanishing, and a grey zone (or green zone) belonging to all passers-by and inhabitants is created. Stage 4 is often created where Stage 1 has prepared the terrain – for example, this is the case on Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio. Gardening re-visited: A green spot under some trees on Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio, next to sunflowers and roses, you find kitchen herbs, zucchini and tomatoes .
Private bridges in Venice? So what kind of bridges are there, and what do they look like? This is a short guide to present to you the various types of the current 435 bridges around town: public and private bridges, two bridges connecting Venice with the terra ferma. Wood and stone bridges. Bridges with rails and without (ponti sena bande). Straight and contorted bridges (ponti storti). Permanent and provisional bridges …. But then our bridges represent an imperative feature of the tessuto urbano – the urban landscape. Click here for a list containing all 435 bridges in Venice.
Bulding the “bridgescape” in Venice all began in the 6th century AD with simple wooden passerelle, bridges that were simple and considered private, connecting houses with their orchards across the swampy islets. Later on, in the 14th century, the bridges in Venice amounted to 450. Their number fell later on, as many canals (rii) were filled in after the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797, to enlarge the pedestrian zones (they are called rio terrà in Venetian = filled-in canal). And within 100 years, abouth one tenth of the town area (40,000 m²) became filled in, and the number of bridges fell.
The bridges were somewhat makeshift right from the beginning – as the most important feature were the rii, the canals, just image the 10,000 gondolas about town in the 14th century !!
When bridges were finally included in the townscape in the late 12th century, it was noticed that dead-ends of the alleys (calli) were not really opposite each other, so sometimes bridges became works of art that connected the two sides of a canal in a very inventive manner.
And you, unconsciously, as a visitor may feel the effect of that special feature of our tessuto urbano even today. If you walk through Venice for hours on end, always concentrated and on the look-out for something, you feel this effect, later on, rather in your feet and body, and as one of our guests put it, that he felt like he had been through a minor mountain hike. How many bridges would you guess you cross on an average afternoon out here in Venice??
Next to our house, the two eldest bridges of Venice are located: It is the Ponte della Canonica and the Ponte di San Provolo. Here is a picture of Ponte della Canonica, connecting the always crowded Campo San Filippo e Giacomo with Piazza San Marco in a larger sense. I made this picture late at night because usually the bridge is so crowded.
These first two public bridges were built in 1170 (in wood, at first) to enable the procession of the Doge and his entourage to make their walk on Easter Monday from Palazzo Ducale to the Monastery of San Zaccaria (by making this visit regularly each year on the Pasquetta day, the doge expressed his gratitude to the nuns of the monastery who had given their orchard (brolo) to the Doge where the Doge’s chapel (later: Basilica di San Marco) was built. And the third public bridge built in Venice, just 10 years later in 1180, was – guess – the Rialto bridge …
So even today, the dicotomy between public and private bridges remains, and here is an example where a private bridge leads from the Fondamenta del Rimedio (sestiere di Castello) crossing the Rio del Rimedio, towards the Hotel Ca’dei Conti – and it is still declared “Private Bridge” as you can read in the sign below …
Would you like to find out what the lagoon of Venice looked like 2000 years ago, and which legend has been connected with it? 2000 years ago you would have come across wide stretches of sea lavender spanning the lagoon, and the notion of the “Seven Seas” would have been familiar to you: It was the Romans that referred to the lagoons lining the northern Adriatic sea as the “Septem maria” – Seven Seas, mainly covered by the mauve and purple-colored sea lavender species – limonium. In the lagoon today, these plants are ever present as they literally cover the barene, surviving the tides closing around them twice a day. Limonium grows by the mouths of the rivers discharging their waters into the lagoon, as well as in the outer parts of the lagoon as it likes the more saline spots too.
One of my books on Venetian legends describes the ancient lagoon landscape like this:
“At that time, the lagoon was a swarm of green islands, sandy shores, solitary water mirrors surrounded by reeds and ferns, where currents foamed and tides cut meanders and rivulets. One seemed to be in the heart of a plain, full of bird cries and breaths of wind”.
So you can see, there are stretches in the lagoon that really resemble the antique lagoonscapes with their flora and quiet places where sea birds can nest.
The salt marshes, barene and velme, these are islets only submerged during the high tides, are thickly covered with plants. Though inhospitable for many fresh water loving plants, they are the right environment for halophytic species requiring more salty soils. Rushes and reeds, on the other hand, love fresh water – you will rather find them next to the mouths of the rivers.
In Roman times, 2000 years ago, the Adriatic shoreline was further inland than now (in the meantime, the deltas and mouths of the rivers have grown and accumulated – marshes and sand banks, the area has become much more shallow).
Roman author Plinius the Elder (he lived from 23-79 AD) tells us about the aspect of these ancient lagoon landscape, separated from the open sea by sandbanks and sprinkled with tiny islets. A lagoon quite different from today’s as you will see. At those times, the expression “sailing the seven seas” was coined, meaning that special know how was required to cross the marshy landscape, the navigable network in the midst of the lagoons, a nautical skill ascribed to the Venetians long before they sailed the Mediterranean and beyond.
This ancient lagoon actually stretched from Ravenna in the South to Aquileia in the North. The Romans built a straight road across it in northern direction, the Via Popilia, towards the town of Altino. From Altino to Aquileia, the Via Aemilia (62 miles long) skirted the northern lagoons. But in parallel to these land routes, internal lagoon waterways following natural water courses in the midst of islands (barene) were available. Now and then salt was extracted from the salt marshes, fishermen lived there hidden behind thick reeds, in makeshift huts built from canes, reeds and straw, and the people living along the shores ventured across to hunt geese and other water birds on special flat wooden rafts and boats. So it was a well-known territory to the people living along the rivers and on the shores of the lagoons to find a safe haven when they were threatened by foreign invaders from the 5th century onwards.
Our Lagoon was ONE rich garden for these first soon-to-be-settlers: pine trees were lining the Cavallino and Equilium shores, with wild horses living there (equilium / cavallino means “horse”).
There is also a legend connected to the times of the Seven Seas: approx. in the year 50 AD, legends have it that Saint Mark traveling from Aquileia to Rome, on his way across the lagoons was surprised by a gale, had to stop and find refuge on an island that was to be part of the town of Venice later – the island where the monastery of San Francesco della Vigna is located, in the Venetian sestriere of Castello. Here St. Mark had a dream when an angel told him that he would return to a future city to be built right in that place in the midst of the lagoon, later on, as patron saint.
… behind these walls are the cloister gardens, and the Chiesetta di San Marco
So if you would like to witness this magical and enchanted atmosphere of times long past, I suggest that you take a few days to get to know the Laguna Nord – beyond Torcello, towards the villages and area of Lio Piccolo, le Mesole. Or you could also visit the island of Lazzaretto Nuovo. It is a relaxing yet insightful trip back into the past …. helping us reconnect to the past and original aspect of the lagoon, and to its sensitive equilibrium to be preserved.
Which is the most massive, highest and awe-inspiring structure in Venice? You will surely guess it is the Campanile in Piazza San Marco. But did you know that the Campanile di San Marco that we see today is not the original one built back in 1511? And of course it is not the first bell tower in wood, built in the 9th century AD, when large parts of the Piazza were still part of the brolo, a herb and vegetable garden belonging to the monastery of San Zaccaria. Right from the start, the Campanile was to act as observation tower and lighthouse for incoming ships.
There is an on-going story behind the life of these campanili: Before the year 2012 comes to an end, I would like to draw the attention of readers to the fact that in 2012, Venice celebrated a very special anniversary: the Campanile that you can see today in Piazza San Marco just opposite the Basilica, celebrated its 100th birthday: on 25 April 2012, Saint Mark’s Day, this inauguration day back in 25 April 1912 was remembered.
In the year 1902, on 14 July at 09:50 in the morning, with Venetians looking on in terror and shock, the Campanile re-constructed in the year 1511, simply collapsed amidst a huge cloud of ashes and mattoni, covering the surrounding buildings, Basilica, Biblioteca del Sansovino, Procurazie Vecchie e Nuove, with dust and debris.
All of a sudden, Venice had been deprived of its beloved symbol. It took ten years to rebuild it – com’era, dov’era (how it was, where it was …. as the typical saying goes in Venice, when some landmark building is destroyed and a proposition is therefore made to rebuild it. The last time, this promise was heard in town when the Teatro La Fenice burnt down in 1996).
My grandmother’s mother and grandparents witnessed this fateful time in Venice, and it was referred to in the family as an unspeakable day of collective Venetian nightmare and mourning that took openly place in the Piazza the day after. A Piazza San Marco without Campanile is unimaginable – and it looked rather empty as you can see in the short video below. Still – the topic of how to strengthen the Campanile goes on and on, and currently, repair and stabilization works are taking place.
The Campanile has been essential to Venetian everyday life ever since, and has even coined a very special Venetian habit during the day, I am referring to the custom of “andar per ombre“. This means getting a refreshing tiny glass of local wine, either in the late morning or in the late afternoon. Ombra means shade, but it is not just any the shade from any building – it is the Campanile’s shade.
At the times of the Venetian Republic, the Piazza San Marco was not just used for representative purposes but it belonged to Venetians themselves. Bancarelle or banchi di mescita – stalls selling refreshments in Piazza San Marco: in the hot summer sun these stalls were shifted constantly, following the shade provided by the huge Campanile.
So how was this anniversary of resurrection celebrated? Amongst others, an exhibition on the history of the Campanile took place at the Galleria Salizada, …
By the way, last year on 25 April, the tradition of the ombra was resuscitated, to remember the times when the Piazza belonged to Venetians, and their stalls, and people enjoying the refreshing shade of the Campanile:
Here you can see how last year, Associazione di Piazza San Marco organized bancarelle stalls, next to the Campanile of course, to offer calici di vino to Venetians and visitors.
And even today, the Campanile’s shade takes center stage: