Lagoon / Venice for Beginners / Winter

A Venetian Winter Tale from 1341

01.18.16

There are some ancient legends that bear a strange resemblance to the situation of the Lagoon today, just few of these are ever mentioned in travel guides. The legend of the “Three Saints” that succeeded in saving Venice from terrible floods caused by a winter storm back in the year 1341. The storm is actually no legend but the real basis of the legend, painted  by Jacopo Palma Il Vecchio, 1490 – 1528, in his Burrasca di Mare), a painting you can see the Galleria dell’Accademia.

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In the evening of 15 February 1339 (or 1341, in other sources), a fisherman took refuge from an approaching tempest, hiding under the Ponte della Paglia bridge next to the Doge’s Palace. At that time, this bridge was made of wood and not of Istrian stone. The legend describes the wooden bridge as rather low, like it is today.
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Suddenly with the wind turning into a frightful gale and the waves flooding Riva degli Schiavoni, the fisherman, lying down in his boat under the bridge for protection, was approached by an old man who asked to be taken immediately across the Bacino di San Marco, to the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore.
Here, another man came on board and asked to be taken to the Lido where at the Church of San Nicolò another man jumped onboard. The three men told the fisherman that in order to save Venice they had to go to the bocca di porto del Lido, immediately.
img_4521 They arrived at the Bocca di Porto del Lido amidst huge waves and noticed a strange vessel full of terrible creatures that were churning up waves, threatening to destroy the lagoon and the city of Venice itself.
The three old men began to pray and a lightning suddenly came down from the sky, sinking the enemy vessel. The storm died down, waves were calm again and the stars appeared in a cloudless sky. The three old men asked to be taken back to their respective churches, and it was then that the fishermen recognized they were the three saints protecting Venice: St Mark, St George and St Nicholas.

The fisherman goes back to his bridge Ponte della Paglia, referring everything he had seen to the Doge (must have been doge Bartolomeo Gradenigo (1339-1342) and showed him a ring that the Doge had lost some time ago in the sea (l’annello del pescatore). Strangely enough, can’t we notice some similarities of this 700-year old legend to today’s situation our lagoon and town are in: La salvezza di Venezia, the fate and survival of Venice, will definitely depend on whether the water masses flooding into the lagoon at the bocche di porto can be finally “tamed”, meaning that acqua alta high tides push into the lagoon exactly here, … enhanced by deep-dug shipping lanes, deep enough to let oversized cruise vessels pass …

How come did Venetians know what would happen a thousand years afterwards, and what would really threaten their home, the Lagoon … here a cruise ship passing in front of  the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore.

PS. The merchant fleet of the Republic of Venice parked OUTSIDE, it was NEVER allowed into the Lagoon. Vessels were moored along a natural sandbank protecting the Lido and the boats from the open sea. This Scanno della Pisotta, as the sandbank was called, disappeared 150 years ago.

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Author: Iris

Iris Loredana: Culinary historian, food and lifestyle blogger. Author of the Blogs "La Venessiana" (Venice) and "From My Italian Home" (coming soon). My family is from Venice and Amalfi and I'm currently based in Venice and Vienna. I love traveling, cooking and gardening - all the things I'm writing about in my blogs !!

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