Venice Can Be A Jungle! Lina and Iris Introduce The Blog

We start with the unbelievable: The image you can see above was taken in Venice on a rainy day in April. In some private gardens totally unknown to the public, Venice still looks like she did until 1797. Above you can see what the largest spice garden of Venice looks like in our times: A garden lovingly tended by its owner, whom I had the honor to visit a few years ago.

In the year 1500, Venice had approx. 130 gardens looking like this, where spices were growing. And by spices I mean spices! Ginger, pepper and cinnamon trees, protected by precious tropical flora.

Many of you already know that Venice became rich because it was the home of talented spice merchants, but few of you would expect that these spices weren’t only imported from the Far East, Africa and the Indian Ocean, but also cultivated in Venice!

You can now see that one of the most touristy cities in the world holds many secrets and stories never told in books. This knowledge of Venice, the garden city, hides in forgotten documents at the Venetian State Archive.

Without her gardens, Venice wouldn’t have been able to survive for more than 1600 years. These gardens hold more than one special meaning, as you will discover on the blog in the coming months.

Lina: Iris and I will share stories on A Garden in Venice to provide hope for all of you who love Venice and who are sad, feeling alienated by issues like overtourism and negligence. We want you to know that there is a healthy core in this city. Venice is no potemkin village: Behind the facades is the healthy, invisible city. Gardens weren’t created to fill in accidental gaps between the buildings but on purpose: Why, when, and how, you will discover soon!

It was easier for visitors to see this secret garden city until 1797 when the Republic of Venice still existed. Until then, the city boasted 158 botanical gardens, the largest number of gardens any city has ever had in Europe. Venetians held opulent banquets in these gardens which became famous in the world.

What happened to our verdant heritage? In part, it is lovingly restored and well-tended. In part, the gardens are unkempt and overgrown, home to wild birds and waiting to be restored behind crumbling facades.

And some of these gardens were destroyed during the floods on 12-17 November 2019.

Iris: I started blogging in May 2011, on A Garden in Venice. During those times, there were only few blogs on Venice and I was the only resident blogging in English. Our garden blog drew 3.8 million page views during the first three years, and we were happy that so many people showed interest in learning more about the green Venice.

In November 2019, when Lina’s garden, the last of what remains of the oldest garden in Venice, was destroyed by the floods, we went through a terrible time, and I felt I couldn’t continue writing about Venice as if nothing had happened.

2019 has been a testing time for Venice! Lina and I both felt a strong urge to tell the true story of this garden and the many others in Venice, and how important our green heritage really is.

Call it a radical rebranding, taking us back to our roots. We will share the story of our garden as it recovers. How gardens wrote Venetian success stories and made the miracle of insular Venice becoming a powerful merchant state possible in the first place. Yes, there are many stories our gardens could tell.

I invite you to stay tuned. Our blog entries will be shorter but we will publish more often. As we relaunch A Garden in Venice on 7 February, the website has 268 blog entries: 50 stories come from La Venessiana, especially my book reviews and articles on Lagoon stewardship.

We will focus on the green Venice from now: Virtual garden walks, garden food, the spices and surprising recipes, to show you the many different types of gardens that Venice has: Palace garden, convent garden, herb garden, kitchen garden, balcony garden, altana, liagò, courtyard garden, and so many more!

These are our topics, and we can’t wait to share them with you.

Thanks for joining us and stay tuned! Lina and Iris

The Beauty of Venice 3 Gardenscapes

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

the beauty of venice 1 secrets

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!

San Francesco della Vigna: Secrets of The Oldest Vineyard in Venice

German version below

For the past 3-4 years, between 27 and 35 million travelers have been arriving in Venice, every year.

What do these figures mean for life in Venice? To continue functioning as “normal city”, Venice needs areas that belong to residents, where they can retreat and ” just live”: Currently, these areas are eastern Castello plus Sant’Elena, and San Francesco della Vigna.

Currently, there are two areas in Venice where tourists do not “clog the streets” during the high season: Instead, there are schools and grocery stores required for daily life, as many of these have closed in the touristic areas.

Both San Francesco della Vigna and Sant’Elena keep functioning as “areas of normal life”, residential zones balancing out the effects of mass tourism in the city. But what is the difference between Sant’Elena and San Francesco della Vigna?

Sant’Elena is a rather “new” area, properly urbanized in the 19th century.

San Francesco della Vigna, on the other hand, is ancient. It’s our heartland, first urbanized in the 4th century AD, and there’s a good reason why we treasure it so much:

Venice has always had two faces, right from the start: The vetrina – the showcase has always been Piazza San Marco and its district (sestiere di San Marco), welcoming visitors with open arms. This is the international, open and diplomatic side of our city, where the merchant fairs took place, so essential for the commercial success of the Republic in the past. And here, the first hotels were created!

shops for everyday life around San Francesco della Vigna

But then, every city needs a quiet zone where people can retreat to as it’s not San Marco where most Venetians live! San Marco houses all the government offices and buildings, and the Basilica. The areas where Venetians live are currently Eastern Castello, San Francesco della Vigna, and Santa Marta (lost when the docks for the port were built).

To balance out life, there’s always been a second city behind the loud and posh showcase: The so-called fringe areas, the most prominent and oldest of which is San Francesco della Vigna.

By the way, this dichotomy also shows in the patron-saints Venice: Saint Mark is the patron saint of the international and open Venice looking south towards the Adriatic Sea and the Levant. Saint Francis of Assisi is the de facto patron saint of the private and reflective Venice, looking north towards the Lagoon (and the island San Francesco del Deserto on which he is said to have found shelter during a storm).

The convent of San Francesco della Vigna is special to the identity and history of our city: It is the ONE area where both saints are present: This convent is dedicated to St. Francis, but also houses a little chapel in its vineyard next to the gasometers, dedicated to Saint Mark (who also found shelter from a storm here, according to legend).

Where the Venetians live, the Lagoon is never far away. They live in Calle de l’Orto, della Vigna, which means that the green garden jewels on which they have always depended for self-sufficient life, were just next door. The northern fringe area was the home of artists like Tintoretto and Titian, and Levantine spice merchants. The rest consisted of gondola workshops and vineyards.

In the midst of this green and popular area, a gasometer had been built in the 19th century, overlooking the Lagoon next to the vineyards of San Francesco and the church of Santa Giustina. This area, its schools and shops have become a vital counter-balance to an already overly touristic city, and its future development has been openly discussed since 2017.

While a solution for the contaminated areas of the ex-gasometers is essential, it is equally important for Venetians to to stay in this area around San Francesco della Vigna, filled with Venetian life, shops, and schools, and thus it must be treated with utmost care. Sustainable solutions for using former gasometer sites have been implemented in other cities such as Vienna where the ex-gasometers were successfully integrated into city life.

Sogar im Sommer ist es hier richtig ruhig!

There’s another, unknown, reason why San Francesco della Vigna is extremely important for Venice and the Venetians, that Lina wants me to share: San Francesco della Vigna, in addition to housing an extremely valuable library and unique garden, is the meeting place of the ancient associations: After 1797, this convent became the spiritual home of Venice. It’s also the home of the Cavalieri di San Marco, founded in 1571 to support Venice after the battle of Lepanto. They have an important international network meeting here every year on 25 April.

Part 2 of this blog series will take you inside, into the monastery and its gardens and vineyard, and you will discover the story of the oldest wine of Venice!

German Version

Trotz des Hochwassers im November kamen 2019 ungefähr 30 Millionen Reisende nach Venedig. Die meisten von ihnen blieben nur einige Stunden oder einen Tag, und noch mehr kamen von den Hotels auf dem Festland von Venedig und den Kreuzfahrtschiffen.

Aber wie reagieren die Venezianer, wenn ihre Stadt völlig überlaufen ist? Richtig, die beiden Wohngebiete in der Stadt, in denen sie sich zurückziehen und durchatmen können, gewinnen an Bedeutung: Diese Stadtteile sind der östliche Teil von Castello um Sant’Elena, und San Francesco della Vigna.

Derzeit haben wir also zwei Bereiche in der Stadt, in denen auch in der Hochsaison nur wenige Touristen zu sehen sind: Hier gibt es noch die Lebensmittelgeschäfte, die wir für den Alltag dringend benötigen, da viele davon in den touristischen Stadtteilen geschlossen haben. Hier gibt es Schulen, und noch genug Raum zum Atmen und “einfach leben”. Daher ist die Existenz der Stadtteile San Francesco und Sant’Elena lebenswichtig: Ohne sie würden die Venezianer endgültig die Stadt verlassen.

the courtyards of the GB Benedetti School next to San Francesco della Vigna

Aber gibt es dann einen Unterschied zwischen den Sant’Elena und San Francesco della Vigna?

Sant’Elena ist ein eher “neues” Stadtviertel, es wurde erst im 19. Jahrhundert vollständig urbanisiert.

San Francesco della Vigna hingegen ist uralt. Es ist das venezianische Kernland, und es gibt einen guten Grund, warum wir es so sehr schätzen. Es ist das Rückzugsgebiet der Venezianer und die Heimat einer wichtigen venezianischen Organisation. Mit anderen Worten: Die Venezianer brauchen den funktionierenden Stadteil San Francesco della Vigna, um weiterhin in ihrer Stadt zu leben.

Venedig hatte immer zwei Gesichter, von Anfang an! Das “Schaufenster” der Republik, nach Süden und aussen gewandt, war schon immer der Markusplatz und seine Umgebung. Er heißt Besucher mit offenen Armen willkommen. Das ist die internationale, offene und diplomatische Seite unserer Stadt, wo Handelsmessen stattfanden, die für den wirtschaftlichen Erfolg der Republik in der Vergangenheit wesentlich waren.

Dennoch benötigt jede Stadt einen Gegenpol: Bereiche, in die sich die Menschen zurückziehen können. Es ist nicht San Marco, wo die meisten Venezianer leben! San Marco beherbergte alle Regierungsbüros und Gebäude und die Basilika.

Schon immer gab es drei Rückzugsorte für die Venezianer: das östliche Castello, San Francesco della Vigna und Santa Marta (das verloren ging, als der Hafen mit den Docks für die Kreuzfahrtschiffe gebaut wurde).

Somit balanciert eine “zweite Stadt” hinter dem lauten und noblen Schaufenster San Marco das Leben aus: Die Randgebiete der Stadt sind die Heimat der Venezianer.

Diese Dichotomie zeigt sich auch bei den Schutzheiligen der Stadt: Der Heilige Markus ist der Schutzpatron des internationalen und offenen Venedig mit Blick nach Süden in Richtung Adria und der Levante, der heilige Franziskus des privaten und reflektierenden Venedig nach Norden in Richtung Lagune (und die Insel San Francesco del Deserto, wo er der Legende nach während eines Sturmes Schutz suchte).

San Francesco della Vigna ist das einzige Gebiet der Stadt, in dem sich beide Heiligen treffen: Es ist dem heiligen Franziskus gewidmet, beherbergt aber eine kleine Kapelle im Weingarten neben den Gasometern, die an die Legende erinnert, dass auch San Marco hier während eines Sturms Schutz gefunden hat.

Wo die Venezianer leben, ist die Lagune nie weit entfernt. Sie leben in der Calle de l’Orto, della Vigna, Gassen mit Namen, die an die grünen Gartenjwele erinnern, die es den Venezianern ermöglichten, sich selber zu versorgen. Im nördlichen Randgebiet der Stadt lebten auch Künstler wie Tintoretto und Tizian sowie levantinische Gewürzhändler. Der Rest bestand aus Gondelwerften und vielen Weingärten.

Wie in so vielen anderen Städten der Welt wurde im 19. Jahrhundert auch in Venedig ein Gasometer mit Blick auf die Lagune neben dem Weinberg von San Francesco und hinter der Kirche Santa Giustinia gebaut.

Dieser Stadteil mit Schulen und lebhaften Geschäften ist derzeit in eine Diskussion involviert, um eine dauerhafte Lösung für das im 19. Jahrhundert gebaute Gasometer zu finden. Es versteht sich von selbst, dass eine sehr sorgfältige und nachhaltige Lösung gefunden werden muss, um die venezianische Identität zu bewahren. Das Gleichgewicht in der Stadt muss erhalten bleiben.

Es gibt erfolgreiche Lösungen für die Nutzung von Gasometer-Standorten in anderen Städten, beispielsweise in Wien: Hier handelt es sich um einen gemischt genutzten Standort, und das ehemalige Gasometer wurde in die Stadt integriert und von den Bewohnern als attraktiver und lebenswerter Raum angesehen.

Es gibt einen weiteren unbekannten Grund, weshalb San Francesco della Vigna so wichtig für die Venezianer ist: Es gibt hier nicht nur eine äußerst wertvolle Bibliothek und einen einzigarten Garten, sondern es ist auch der letzte Ort in der Stadt, an dem sich die alten Vereinigungen treffen: Das Kloster wurde die geistige Heimat Venedigs nach 1797. Heute ist es die Heimat der Cavalieri di San Marco, die 1571 nach der Schlacht von Lepanto gegründet wurden. Sie haben ein großes internationales Netzwerk und feiern hier jedes Jahr am 25. April das Fest von San Marco.

Teil 2 dieser Blogserie führt Sie in das Kloster und seinen Weingarten hinein, und Sie werden die Geschichte dieses besonderen Weins entdecken!

Il Giardino che Parla: The Secret Language of Venetian Gardens

Venice has a myriad of garden types, which developed during more than 1,700 years! Little is known that each garden holds a special message for us, and that’s true for convent gardens and for palace gardens! We cannot say which one of these two came first in Venice, but we assume it’s the convent gardens.

Venetian gardens speak to us through symbols, layout and the wise choice of plants, and it’s fascinating to decipher their ancient voices. To share an example with you, take a look at which plants were chosen in the oldest gardens in Venice. These plants are known to be hardy and survive in a marshy halophile environment.

The basic layouts of the first gardens in the Lagoon were the hortus conclusus, a small square garden you can often find in the convents of the Lagoon, and the hortus deliciarum in private gardens. Hortus deliciarum was the core feature of the palace garden, from which the spice gardens developed approx. 850-900 AD. The spice gardens needed a special setting to protect sensitive plants such as ginger, pepper, and cinnamon! Spice plants were growing in profusion in the protected gardens of noble families and spice merchants in Venice, especially during the periodo caldo medievale (Medieval warm period) between the year 950-1250 AD approximately. Personally, I find this period to be the most fascinating chapter in Venetian garden history.

We found that the plants growing in the gardens of Venice until 1797 hold clear messages and provide hints of how their owners viewed life and business, and the role the plants were playing in Venice to make the city as self-sufficient as possible.

While there were of course individual preferences for plants, some trees, shrubs, flowers and herbs were ubiquitous in Venice: Below we list a few of the first plants, arriving in the Venetian gardens between 370 and 900 AD approximately (yes, these gardens are between 1100 and 1400 years old. El Brolo, the ancient garden of the San Zaccaria Monastery, is one of them ..)

The layout of these oldest gardens is based on the Ancient Greek and Roman gardens and is thus rather formal. It’s the basis for what would become the monastery gardens in Venice: San Zaccaria as I mentioned above, but also San Zanipolo, San Francesco della Vigna, I Frari, to name just a few.

Here are some of the plants you could find in the first gardens of Venice, and their hidden meaning:

  • Cypress trees were used to confer pace – peace and tranquillity to an area, and were planted in the the Lagoon cemeteries.
  • Vines originally represented umiltà – humility. The first vineyards were created by monks and nuns in the Lagoon. San Zaccaria was the most ancient vineyard in Venice.
  • Olive trees shall promote misericordia (mercy) and wisdom of the heart. Did you know that the Doge of Venice had a giardino pensile – hanging garden, and a towering olive tree?
  • Peri e meli (pears and apple trees), brought to Europe by the Greek and Romans around 200 BC from the southwestern coast of Turkey, symbolized obbedienza – obedience and were first planted in the orchards of monasteries in Venice.
  • Amongst the herbs, la salvia (sage) is one of the most ancient herbs we know of in Venice. It’s the symbol of la salvezza (sanity, health) due to its strong healing principles. It was used as antibiotic before the advent of potent spice mixtures created by the Venetian spezieri (spice masters / apothecaries)
  • To protect the herb gardens from unwanted animals and insects, ruta (rue) was planted around the cultivations. The little yellow blossoms were also thought to attract good health in general.

We could continue for hours on end, unearthing more forgotten Venetian garden secrets and treasures. Lina planted all of these herbs, shrubs and trees in her garden, to recall the beginnings of Venetian garden culture, when she started restoring her garden in 1968, suffering from the flood of 4 November 1966.

To be continued 🙂 to read more about Lina’s garden, please click here, and click here to learn more about Lina.

Flowers for Carnival: Decorating with Seasonal Lagoon Blossoms

Carnival in Venice is taking a quality leap, and an educational note. This period of three weeks is becoming a collective opportunity, for Venetians and visitors alike, to explore the forgotten heritage of Venice. Amongst others, we can now discover the secrets of colors in ancient Venice, learn about decorating and the ancient food art for which Venice was famous for more than 1200 years.

In Venice, Carnival was taken up in 1979 after almost 200 years, after wearing masks had been forbidden under Austrian rule. Even the notion of Carnival had to be rediscoverd slowly..

Carnival in Venice has its own special style, reflected in the flowers used for decorations. The image above gives you the complete picture of the colors of Carnival, its subdued mood in a city looking pale blue and dark emerald in February. It’s still a frozen Venice: For now, the season has no flashy colors, but is shrouded in dark purple, emerald, pale yellow, shiny black and brilliant whites.

On the other hand, Venice in February already shows tentative signs of spring, regaling flowers used to decorate Carnival feasts and banquets. The gardens make progress every single day, and by the end of February, the cherry trees blossom in the orchards of the Lagoon and in Treporti.

These pale cherry blossoms were favorites, used in styling Carnival events 300 years ago. Also, the pale rose and purple colors of tulips and white-yellow daffodils were used to create more intense accents in flower decorations, just as they are today.

Hothouses were present in Venice since the 15th century, as many sensitive plants of this botancial city required protection in winter: These hothouses were not used to cultivate spring flowers, though, and for Carnival, the Venetians relied on the blossoms of late winter and in particular, pale yellow mimosa and purple camelias.

As Venetians have always loved using edible herbs to decorate the tables, the garden blossoms were livened up with evergreen herbs such as emerald green laurel leaves, rosemary sprigs and thyme and their wilted blossoms of the past summer.

Venetian Carnival decorations are still an enticing mix of old and new, rural and elegant city style, creating a unique setting which is no coincidence. In the past, it was well planned, also colorwise: For example, the color blue was never part of any Carnival decoration in Venice, and there was a good reason for it which we explain in our green Carnival e-guide.

Also in the ancient Venice, the selection of colors for food and table decorations were always based on the color wheel: They must reflect the mood of the season and balance it out. For example, in February, white and blue days require golden and purple hues, to create the contrast to the pale lavender and dark white colors of the sky, both in food and in decorating the tables.

This is just one way of banquetting, Venetian style: Discover all the details, historical background, delicious menus, guide to masks and decorating, and the forgotten stories connected with the Carnival in our updated eguide: Carnoval a Venessia – The Green Carnival guide.