Imagine you are a Venetian spice merchant, arriving home in the evening of 28 June 1509. As you are approaching the calm waters of the northern Adriatic shores, you can make out through the slight mist ahead the dark green and whitish shores of your home, the Lagoon of Venice.
While your merchant cog is drawing nearer to the coast, dark green patches against a rose-emerald green evening sky are appearing in front of you. It’s the pine trees lining the white sandy shores of Equilium (today’s Cavallino shores). In the 16th century, the Cavallino peninsula ws protected by a banana-shaped island consisting exclusively of white dunes. About 200 meters away, the shores of the Lido island looked much like the other side, covered with white dunes and lush pine woods. You can see the secretive atmosphere of an evening in this part of the Lagoon in the video below.
Your cog now comes to a stop and you must get off onto a smaller vessel taking you into the shallow waters of the Lagoon. Merchants and the spice loads are dispatched while the cogs are moored in front of the banana-shaped island called Scanno della Pisotta (It doesn’t exist any more but you can see it on old maps). It had a very important function to fulfill, soaking up excessive water masses coming in from the Adriatic sea. In its curve, the larger merchant boats were moored, waiting to be reloaded and sent off to the Levant on yet another spice expedition.
In the 16th century, after several outbreaks of bubonic plague in the Levantine countries, you were not allowed to go to Venice immediately after arriving but had to stay 40 days (quarantena) on one of the Lazzaretto islands, together with the goods that had been transported on the cogs, in order to avoid illnesses spread to Venice.
From my favorite restaurant in Punta Sabbioni, All’Ancora, you have a good view of this part of the Lagoon. Beyond in the mist shrouding the darkish reeds you can make out the soft green marshlands interspersed with tiny islands. And these are very special islands, holding all the ideas and visions Venetians ever created and dreamed of.
During the times of the Republic, more than 300,000 people lived in Venice. Much space was needed, yet during that time, the northern island groups of Torcello, Ammiana, Santa Cristiana and Sant’Ariano became uninhabitable. Around 60,000 people had to leave these islands due to movements of the soil called subsidenza. In addition, the rivers brought debris into the Lagoon and her existance was threatened. Everything was done to prevent Ammiana and Sant’Ariano from sinking but after 100 years of trying every possible remedy, even the Venetian engineers had to give up. The islands disappeared under the waters and some were torn apart. The nuns living on Sant’Ariano moved on to Murano. Sant’Ariano remained in unstable conditions until the 18th century when it partly re-emerged from under the water surface.
While Venice was suffering from sovrafollamento (overpopulation), the Government in the early 18th century had to find a place for the dead and gave up the cemeteries usually located next to the churches in town. They brought their dead, amongst them doges, fishermen, explorers, merchants, noblemen, housewifes, artists – in short, the people who had lived in Venice for more than 1000 years, to their new home, the island of Sant’Ariano. Perhaps even Marco Polo is amongst them for we haven’t found his grave in the church of San Lorenzo yet .. Below you can watch the calm and unique atmosphere around the island of Sant’Ariano, where the hopes and dreams of Venice live on shrouded in blue-rose-emerald sunset sparkles.
From my favorite terrace in Punta Sabbioni you can admire those rose-red-emerald sunset islands in the distance, Crevan, Sant Ariano and Ammiana and beyond, the cradle of Venice, Torcello. I love sitting here on a summer evening in June looking out for flamingos rising above the reeds. Contemplating the Lagoon during the Blue Hour can be a very soothing experience …
At 8:00 pm it is pleasantly warm and you can enjoy a dish of creamy gnocchi a i granchi e a la granséola on the terrace of All’Ancora next to the vaporetto station, located on ancient territory.
Part 3 of this blog series dedicated to Discovering the Uncharted Lagoon will present you the Lagoon when you arrive from Marco Polo Airport / Tessera. Part 1 described the unknown islands of La Porta and Lago di Campalto.8