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!

30 Resources for You to Explore Venice in 2020

How is Venice changing after a rather difficult year 2019, and what is important to know for visitors now? While outwardly, the city is beautiful as always, there are a few things you need to take into account to prepare your visit in 2020 ff. In this post, we share our favorite resources (books, travel tips, travel websites). While some resources are equally relevant for all visitors, we mention specific tips for first-time, frequent visitors and “Venice experts / insiders”.

Take some time off, bookmark this page and enjoy exploring Venice online!

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Basic resources for all visitors

These are our recommended resources for you to keep up in touch with Venice, and consult before your visit. Each of these links has plenty of suggestions to dig deeper and find your personal favorite topics.

Cafe Correr: enjoy one of the most beautiful views of Venice before or after your visit at Museo Correr (image credit: MUVE – image guide here).

Resources for first-time visitors

Are planning to visit Venice for the first time, or are you returning after more than 10-15 years (a lot has changed ..). We can’t wait for you to discover the city and dive right in. Here are some resources for you:

Resources for frequent visitors / Venetophiles

You return to Venice as often as you can, once or several times a year! You love exploring art and food and enjoy Venetian lifestyle. You do (much of) your shopping in Venice, some of you write blogs, love painting, or are photographers. Most of all, you love immersing yourselves into Venetian creativity, collecting books, paintings, and all websites and newsletters out there on Venice! Here are our suggestions for you, the frequent travelers – Venetophiles, for a fresh start into your new decade with Venice!

Resources for “insiders / experts”

This is for all who call Venezia “home” or “second home”. You speak Italian and (!) Venetian fluently, plus the second and third former official languages of La Serenissima Republic, Latin and Ancient Greek (koiné to be precise). Thus, you are able read the original texts and draw your own conclusions. You contribute to shedding light on forgotten aspects of Venice, being a regular at the Venetian State Archive and museum libraries. We are happy to already have met some of you, such as historian Frederick Lane, whom Lina gave access to the library of San Zaccaria to do research for his book on money and banking in Renaissance Venice.

Perhaps you would like to focus on a certain topic in 2020 and explore it from original documents? What about the urban development of our city, why and how the ancient professions made Venice unique in the world? The shelves of libraries and the State Archive are filled with forgotten books waiting for us to open!

Interview: My Hope for Venice. The City After the Floods.

Dear readers,

In Venice, everyone could tell you about the flood of 4 November 1966, when the water level reached 194 cm on Piazza San Marco. My generation knows this event only from hearsay and until two weeks ago, it seemed unlikely that we would ever witness a similar one. After all, they used to happen only every 150-200 years.

Yet, the nightmare became reality on 12 November 2019, without us noticing first: The flood surprised because of its speed and violence, brought on by three winds causing violent storms and devastating waves. The waves arrived in the city and not just broke window glass but swept over into gardens and homes, destroying what was in its way, not just gondole and vaporetti.

In this interview, I’m speaking with our grandmother who witnessed both floods and so vividly recalls the acqua granda of 1966. As I’m writing, Venice is still impacted by recurring flooding and bad weather.

Iris: Were you surprised that last week’s flood turned out so devastating, reaching level 187 cm and possibly more?

Lina: No. The winds sweeping the city during the two days preceding the flood were the most obvious sign that we were in for a serious event: The rare combination of the southwesterly libeccio and the opposing wind forces scirocco (southerly) and bora (northerly) just had to wreak havoc: The humid plumb skies are a sign of scirocco, the blue skies of bora, and storms usually arrive in the wake of the libeccio. The New Moon phase wasn’t over yet, so issues with severely rising water levels was certain.

Iris: How can we live with the frightening knowledge that we are so exposed to floods?

Lina: The floods are part of life in this Lagoon, so living here is a risk you must take into account. Moderate flooding is necessary to flush and nourish the Lagoon as the largest part of plants are halophile. But within a certain range! Floods turned out so severe because Lagoon stewardship has been neglected (played down), which goes back to the times when Venice wasn’t able to take decisions for herself (from 1797).

A solution for Venice and the Lagoon will come, I’m sure about that, but it won’t come overnight. During stage one on the way back to a viable Lagoon, measures may well go into a direction that could impact the long-term viability of the Lagoon.

12 November 2019 has changed Venice forever. We will see the impact of this day during the decades to come, and some of the damage will be with us forever. We’ve come to the decisive stage: Many small businesses, the backbone of the city, may start leaving the city like they did in 1966. The drain of people leaving the city might just continue so we need a solution urgently. 2020 is too late.

I’m convinced that in 30-50 years from now, there won’t be cruise ships in the Lagoon. In the meantime, an emergency solution (such as rerouting ships while finding a solution for the port of Venice and flood regulation) will be put in place. I don’t think we can revert the damage in the Lagoonscape within a few years. It will take decades: 10-30 years to ascertain and contain it, another 20 years to stabilize, and another 20-30 years to revert and finalize.

Iris: How do we cope in Venice during and after such a flood?

Lina: We help each other and live from day to day: Making sure there’s shelter for everyone, drinking water, electricity, food and in particular, bread for all. Many bakeries in Venice were badly damaged, like Majer in Via Garibaldi, and about half of the bakeries are still closed.

The Civil Protection Services were doing an incredible job, answering 147 emergency calls for help alone on 12-13 November (imagine the kitchen flooded and the emergency unit arrives within 10 minutes: They help carry the two huge freezers in a family-run hotel onto the terrace on the second floor and thus avoid anyone from hurting themselves – and they have saved the freezers from the salt water). The civil services, from hospital to police to maintenance workers saved lives and entire existences because you know, most of the damage and what happened in the night of 12/13 November will remain private. These stories are not out there on the Internet.

Iris: Can Venice survive another flood like this?

Lina: Perhaps one or at most two. I cannot say right now, as we need to wait for the evidence. We need to wait for our homes to dry and can only then assess the extent of the damage. The danger is that Venice is getting weaker with each flood. We can’t neglect the mid-term effects of such a series of floods. Another event like this, and many inhabitants will leave the city, not because they want to, but because they cannot afford to remain here financially. More animals and plants will die, buildings, art collections, gardens and books will be lost.

Iris: How do Venetians react to the flooding?

Lina: While some moments are pure desperation, there’s so much community and help amongst Venetians, and our friends! I’m so grateful for all the voices on the internet (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, personal messages) who encouraged us.

Iris: Which message do you have for our readers who love Venice?

Lina: Consider the complete picture and story of this city: 2019 is one year in the life of Venice, albeit a decisive one for her physical existence. But so are other six years in our 1600-year-old history:

  • 1348: Bubonic plague devastates Venice.
  • 1379: The Genoese fleet threatens the existence of Venice, entering the Lagoon at Chioggia.
  • 1571: Battle of Lepanto weakens the Venetian armada.
  • 1575: Bubonic Plague leads to the construction of the Redentore Church.
  • 1631: Bubonic Plague leads to the construction of the Basilica della Salute.
  • 1966: Devastating flood, contaminating the Lagoon and causing many inhabitants to leave
  • 2019: Cruise ship accidents plus acqua granda (serious flooding)

Venice has been through a number of natural disasters, wars and epidemics! Speaking positively, we’ll come up with a solution for this one as well. One step a time, even though the first of these steps may be into the wrong direction.

To be continued next week!

Our First Year of Blogging on Venice

A Venezia puoi girare il mondo in un giorno – Walking around Venice, you can take a world trip in one day. That’s how the very first supporter of our Blog sees her home town Venice. She’s my 93-year-old Grandmother who grew up in the northern Lagoon but moved back to her family home on Campo S. M. Formosa after the war in late April 1945.

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On 20 June 2016 our Blog La Venessiana celebrated its first anniversary. In the early afternoon one year ago during coffee I told my grandmother that I wanted to start a blog on Venice. Taking the readers behind the scenes and into private homes, kitchens and gardens. Above all, exploring the stories of the Venetian spice merchants and the culinary treasures they brought back to Venice from the Levant.

For years Grandmother, who inherited the library of a Venetian monastery, wanted me to join her sorting through her books. I’m really fascinated by this incredible source of recipes and ancient documents. They have become an important source for the blog posts I write and the book we are currently preparing.

Grandmother’s interest in Venetian food is based on her own background. For decades she spent four weeks in November or December in a Levantine country searching for Venetian traces.  Some Venetian families still live there working for international organizations, NGOs or in embassies, and she visited with them. She traveled with a group of Venetian friends and they took thousands of pictures and made films which we watched for days on end during the Christmas holidays. Now I’m very glad I was able to see all those films showing the beautiful countries and food of the Levant, for this is where Venetian culture originally comes from.

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Grandmother joined me writing the blog with many ideas and unusual insights into Venice. This is how she explains our city to you:

When you arrive in Venice you enter an ancient world of its own. Time and reality don’t seem to apply in this floating town. You might consider it a strange place with no cars, water reflections and surprising colors everywhere. Istrian stone buildings and almost no green, no gardens at first sight. I’m talking about arriving at Riva degli Schiavoni – San Zaccaria. From here, you enter the winding world of the Venetian calli such as Calle delle Rasse or Calle degli Albanesi. You notice there’s a calle degli Armeni, and a Chinese artefact in a shop window. In the Lagoon, you visit an Armenian island with a monastery and its fantastic Damascus rose garden. You continue walking and come across fragrant pastries, sweets and menus and try baccalà whose ingredients come from Scandinavia. You taste sweet bread based on a recipe originally from Persia. You visit Biblioteca Marciana and the Ancient Greek and Roman exhibitions … we could continue along these lines, see what I mean? In Venice, the ANCIENT world has survived like in no other place on Earth. All you need is the knowledge to read its codes.

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Grandmother loves cooking and gardening: Here she’s planting pink carnation. Very special ones, retrieved from a monastery garden.

What we want to explore in our blog and book:  How Venice developed a unique world made from herbs, blossoms and spices through her commercial relations with all parts of the world. In our second year of blogging we invite you to join us discovering the Fragant World of Venice. We will offer a Monthly Newsletter with access to special gifts from Venice and would be very happy if you joined us here !!

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Grandmother, very happy with her pupils in the 1960s, chefs at Venetian luxury hotels. Her recipes were first published in a book in 1983 (sold out, but an important inspiration for the new book).
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Thank you for following our Blog during its first year, for your comments and private mails, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter messages. It’s been an overwhelming experience making new friends all over the world and meeting some of them in Venice last year and this spring. Please feel free to contact us any time, we look forward to hearing from you !!

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Venice for Photographers

Venice and photography – these two go together. How do you organize a splendid photo shooting on a moist late winter – early spring day. Without getting soaked despite the odd acquazzone pouring down. But then, all participants in this photo shooting focussed  completely on their cameras without noticing the occasional gust of wind and shower.

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Magda, Giuseppe, Pietro

So these are the winning ingredients to spend a rewarding Sunday afternoon in Venice:

  1. The organizer – Giuseppe, who is well-known to stage wonderful events #veneziadatoccare. Take a look here !
  2. Models for the photo shooting – bride and groom and many passers-by joining in and taking pictures with us
  3. The Instagram photographers group Instatellers
  4. Sposarsi a Venezia and a  Wedding Fair in Venice
  5. Venetian setting 1 – scenic outdoor Venice, palatial, sophisticated
  6. Venetian Setting 2 – luxury indoors, roof-top with a view
  7. Photo competition and gala dinner for the participants
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Here you can see a number of pictures taken in the first part of the photo shooting, including a walk under the arcades of the Doge’s Palace. Even the puddles in Piazza San Marco fulfilled a purpose, acting as reflection pools for one of the most beautiful picture taken:

Here you can see a gallery of our percorso fotografico. Bride and groom even stopped on Ponte della Paglia which is the most beaten bridge (path) in Venice. From here, you get the best view of the Ponte dei Sospiri – the Bridge of Sighs. Even though quite a few tourists had joined us by that time, we managed to take a picture of the bridge WITHOUT the crowds.

What a wonderful lesson of photography leading us to spectacular places – well-known yet undiscovered perspectives. Watching Giuseppe, you can learn a lot about inspiring perspectives and photography styling.

The second part of the photo shooting took place at the Hotel Europa and Regina, in the banqueting halls, a luxurious rooftop suite with terrace.

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Here’s the view from the canal-side part of the terrace.

The second part of this mini series, online after Easter, will take us inside into the rooftop suite and terrace regaling a stunning view of Venice.

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