This blog article introduces our favorite season in the Lagoon, very early spring. The unofficial start of spring as we perceive it in Venice, is the day after Mardi Gras called Mercoledì delle Ceneri (Ash Wednesday). In this article we take you for a virtual trip out into the northern Lagoon and tell you its story from a different point of view.
With our family background of Laguna Nord, we tell you more about this part anyway :-) and we dedicate the Laguna Nord article series to our friend Vanessa who writes the enticing blog “Food in Books“.
The first impression you get of Laguna nord is that it consists of many small entities, archipelagos to be precise. One characteristic of the fringe areas of Laguna nord is that they are “sprinkled” with many islands, most of them are tiny. Usually, these archipelagos consist of 3-5 larger islands (fortified by means of red bricks as you can see in the video below) and tiny marshy islands forming a ring around them.
If grass, herbs or sea lavender grows on these islands they are called le barene. During high tide they are often flooded and under water. The marshy lower-lying islands are called le velme resembling swamps. The salty excellent soil makes vegetable gardens thrive. It’s a wistful place carefully shrouding its secrets from prying eyes. You need to come here at least for a day to take in and learn to listen to its secrets. You could also explore them in a kayak (see video below) :-)
Think of the three parts that Laguna nord consists of. Each holds its secrets which books have tried to unveil a hundred times. Unveiling these secrets we would be able to tell the history of Venice exactly, but for now, research is still going on.
Laguna nord is one of the two hearts of the original Venetiae – little commercial, hunting, vegetable farming and fishing grounds which were merged between the 3rd and 8th century AD to form the Lagoon communities as we know them today, Venice, Laguna Nord and Laguna Sud.
Secret Metropolis. In the 13th century, the island Torcello counted approximately 60,000 inhabitants. And yes, it’s in the midst of a lawn on this island that you can find a stone seat called il trono di Attila, the throne of Attila, King of the Huns. But that’s a myth for Attila never set foot on Torcello, and the throne which you can see in the title picture, located under olive trees, was the seat of a local judge in the 5th century AD. Yet, the tourists cling to this legend and have their pictures taken sitting on the “throne”.
Forgotten Cloisters & Haunted Islands. This part of Venice is sometimes mentioned in mystery stories like the Vaporetto 13 novel by Robert Girardi. In a way, it’s true that this is a huge cemetery of history. Here, Venetian history is (literally) buried on the sea ground (which is not so deep, at most, 1-2 meters) for the Lagoon is shallow where no artificial waterways for large boats have been dug.
This is the part of the Lagoon where many islands have disappeared and are constantly created, a sort of Atlantide in Laguna due to natural erosion and the ever shifting sand banks near the mouths of the rivers. In addition, the Republic of Venice in the 16th century had to redirect rivers to prevent the Lagoon from becoming a swamp. It was swampy conditions and malaria brought on by mosquitoes that caused the inhabitants to leave and the ancient heart of the Lagoon shift to Venice. For this reason, Torcello and the adjacent island groups of Santa Cristina and Sant’Ariano lost most of their population in the 14 th century. The monks and nuns moved to Venice. What remains in this area is the cloister island of San Francesco del Deserto, you can make out this island from Burano and on your way to Torcello.
Farmer’s Slow Food Land. As Arrigo Cipriani put it in his book, “these vegetables growing on the islands of the northern Lagoon are small but perhaps they taste best in the world, growing on naturally salty ground”. After the great flood of 1966 which made farming impossible for 20-30 years in some parts of the northern Lagoon, today this part seems to become a center of biological farming. The islands of Sant’Erasmo, Mazzorbo, Le Vignole and the fringe parts around Treporti were dubbed L’Orto dei Dogi – the Vegetable Garden of the Doges (more in upcoming blog articles).
If your impression is that you can comprehend and grasp only a tiny part of this area and that it keeps its secrets well, then you are perfectly right. This is challenging ground for historians and archeologists and even culinary historians and botany experts. After this introduction, our next article in this series will take you onto ancient ground – the island group around Torcello that disappeared 500 years ago – called arcipelago di Santa Cristina e Sant’Ariano. In the meantime, take a look at the Atlas of the northern Lagoon following this link!