I have always been interested in what Venice looked like in the beginning, Venice is said to have been founded on 25 March 421 (according to historian Marin Sanudo who lived in the 15th century). So in 2012, Venice has celebrated 1591 years of existence. To imagine what Venice must have looked like in the very beginning, you must go out into the lagoon, here you get the view of whatVenice must have been, with reeds all over, instable grass islands often soaked with water during the tides, marshlands, sea gulls, and the first settlers living in capanne (huts) and living by fishing, hunting water birds and cultivating their salt gardens.
And where was the first garden created on the Rialto islands, first settled in 421? We do not know for sure, but there was a garden of roses, orchards and vegetables where today is the Basilica di San Marco, tended by the nuns of the monastery of San Zaccaria; its church was built in 829.
This garden was called Brolo, and it seems this was the first garden ever in Venice. This plot of garden was then sold by the nuns of San Zaccaria and here the Basilica di San Marco was built afterwards (so nothing of the Brolo is left to see). Today there is still the Campo San Zaccaria, five minutes from San Marco, with the usual pozzo (well) in its midst, and the historic church. What I admire in particular in this church is its crypta, again connected to the first Venetians, as some of the first doges are buried here. And once a year, the doge visited San Zaccaria on Easter Monday to thank the nuns for offering their orto or brolo so that the basilica, the doge’s church, could have been built (in wood at first).
If you are interested in the beginnings of Venice, I can recommend some books with lots of pictures that I have been devouring ever since, with beautiful colorful illustrations of what the lagoon and the first flower gardens, orchards,herbs and vegetables must have looked like. The latest in this series that I have discovered is Venezia Come (English edition: Venice the basics).