This is Part two of our Online Travel Guide “Seven Steps to Discovering Venice”. This time we want to tell you a few fascinating facts about this wonderful blue stretch of shallow sea, the Lagoon of Venice.
Imagine your plane is landing in Venice and the Lagoon is coming in sight. Depending on the weather you’ll see various shades of color patterns. Light blue and azure. Deep blue and marron. Olive and emerald-green. Call it ecomosaico – a mosaic of life making up the largest lagoon of the Mediterranean Sea, the Lagoon of Venice called Laguna Veneta in Italian.
Did you know that it’s not just one Lagoon but actually two and that they still differ from each other ? The southern Lagoon is roughly 5000 years old and is called Laguna Viva. The northern Lagoon Laguna Morta was created when the sea level rose further around 1500 BC, submerging additional parts of the coastal plain.
#1 Learn how to read the colors of this Lagoon. The brown areas are called barene, Lagoon soil exposed to the tides where sea lavender (limonium) grows. Green patches mean islands, deep blue means deeper water (man-made canals) and turquoise-maroon means shallow water (bassi fondali).
Venice represents the border between the northern and southern Lagoon and also functions as watershed where sea and fresh water meet.
The northern Lagoon called Laguna Morta doesn’t mean that this stretch water is dead. On the contrary, it’s the part less exposed to sea water and that’s why it’s always been used for vegetable farming.
This area was called Laguna Morta by the Republic of Venice that 500 years ago fought the opposite problem we have today. The Lagoon turned very swampy and was in danger to disappear. People left the islands Torcello, Ariano and Santa Cristina due to malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Venice had to act and dams were built to change the direction of the rivers (Brenta, Sile, Adige). From that time, the picture has changed completely and the Lagoon must be monitored closely to prevent it turning into open sea.
#2 If you look closely, you can notice that the brown areas take on a purple color in late summer when sea lavender (limonium) is in bloom. You can see our purple-tinged Lagoon in this blog post.
#3 Is Venice sinking? The phenomenon called subsidenza was slowed down in the 1990s when the industry facilities in Marghera stopped pumping freshwater from under the Lagoon. So Venice won’t sink but she can be in danger (1) in case the sea level rises due to climate change and (2) additional barene are damaged by erosion.
In the video below Francesco da Mosto shows you how shallow the Lagoon really is and how this fact helped defend Venice from enemies for centuries.
#4 The Lagoon is a natural waterway consisting of a few defining landscape elements. Natural canals and submerged river beds are called ghebi and can be reached only by flat boats called sandali.
The Lagoon is a paradise for growing herbs, wine and vegetables, not just fishing and catching vongole in the Laguna viva. If you love herbs, do try salicornia in spring. You can taste these herbs in specialty restaurants in Venice, for example at Ristorante Gran Canal or Vecio Fritolin.
Venetians have always harvested Lagoon honey made from the flowering plants growing on the barene. You can buy this honey miele di limonium at specialty stores in town, for example at Casa del Parmigiano at the Rialto Market.
There are even olive groves thriving in the mild and humid climate of the Lagoon, on Torcello and on Isole delle Rose. Vineyards have always grown on Mazzorbo, artichokes and green vegetables on Sant’Erasmo, Le Vignole and on Mazzorbetto in former times. Tomatoes grow on the Cavallino peninsula (read more in this blog post).
#5 Lagoon landscape with a purpose: Vegetable islands in the north (Laguna Morta), fishing grounds in the south (Laguna Viva part with higher salinity).
Le barene fulfill an important function for the Lagoon to survive. Their plants limonium and salicornia filter water much like plants filter water in a swimming pond, keeping the ecosystem in balance.
In the 17th century, 255 km² of Lagoon surface were covered with barene, more than half the Lagoon which is 550 km². In 1901, barene-covered areas were 170 km² and in 2003, just 47 km² were left !! The barene are endangered by man-made deep shipping canals in the Lagoon (Canale dei Petroli, Canale Vittorio Emanuele) through which currants enter causing the barene to erode. In my opinion, yet another reason why Grand Navi or any large vessel must keep out !
Finally, I’d like to share a few favorite pictures of the Lagoon with you which I found on Instagram. I love the quiet late-summer colors of the island San Francesco del Deserto surrounded by barene overgrown with limonium. Did you know that pink flamingos live in the Lagoon in summer ?
The next part of our Online Course Seven Steps to Venice will be online in the first week of November. Check out all sequel stories here.