Unchartered Waters of the Venetian Lagoon: L’Isola della Porta and Lago di Campalto

Ombriola. Crevan. Ammiana. Pisotta. Ancient terms describing forgotten islands. One island changed its name in the late 15th century. Another resumed its former function of providing hospitality only three years ago. Yet another was submerged and a fourth appeared in the Lagoon in the early 18th century. One forgotten island which was given up in 1439 began re-emerging from under the waters 20 years ago. Who knows about the story of Lio Piccolo and a group of tiny islands still belonging to the Monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni ? The Lagoon is a secret and magical area. Like a living organism, she is changing constantly. Let’s start by telling you about an island once called Porta della Serenissima..   

The Lagoon is a paradise for archeologists, historians, explorers, botanists and adventurers, of course. She’s the life blood of Venice. Holding and keeping intact her history. She’s working a special magic on us today and has done ever since the first humans set eyes on her. The Romans compared her to the city of Baia on the Gulf of Naples. Originally, the Lagoon was called ” I Sette Mari ” – the Seven Seas because she was three times the size she is today. The Lagoon enabled Venice to become self-sufficient for more than 1,400 years. Only when she loses her balance will Venice cease to exist.

The Lagoon presents her clout in many facets and she’s responsible for the million reflections we admire in Venice every day. For example, after a storm you can notice that Venice is surrounded by a ring of turquoise waters, a stark contrast to the cobalt blues further away. I was approaching Murano on a vaporetto (public transport boat) and watched the island becoming illumated in rose golden light. What a feast for photographers :-)

The average visitor approaching Venice might be oblivious to the Lagoon. I do understand for there are more than a million impressions to take in when you come to Venice. I always notice how people get excited. Total strangers seem to bond on the Alilaguna Boat, taking pictures of each other and really seem to be so happy they have finally arrived.

What do we really know about Torcello (see part 3 of this series)

Today, you can enter the Lagoon coming from all four directions, so I will describe each path and you will notice how the picture and impressions you get from the Lagoon is shifting. In this first article, we’ll enter the Lagoon coming from the West, crossing the Lago di Campalto to reach Venice. Part 2 of our blog series tells the story of the Lagoon seen from the East, that is, Punta Sabbioni. Just beyond is the Lido and a group of islands, unchartered territory for the average tourist and perhaps the well-traveled Venice lover as well. Part 3 tells you what you can see when you arrive from the North, Marco Polo Airport located next to Tessera and Altino. In part 4 we’ll cross the quiet southern Lagoon and pass a few “wild” islands before reaching Venice in the midst of her Lagoon.

During the times of the Republic, you would have arrived in Venice from the West on a boat from Fusina crossing the mouth of the Brenta River (or, on board one of the 9000 merchant vessels Venice owned. They were moored along the Scanno della Piscotta just outside the Lido which looked totally different until 120 years ago).

From Fusina, your boat sails towards the island San Secondo for all incoming and outgoing boats stopped at this island called La Porta, the “door”. Sometimes boats had wait for a storm to pass. The original name of the island was Sant’Erasmo after a saint venerated by the fishermen of the Lagoon. Only afterwards was the name changed to San Secondo when the reliquaries of San Secondo were brought to the Lagoon from Asti.

The Clout of the Lagoon: Waters turn yellow and the sky looks like night during a storm in the Lagoon

In the past, the Lagoon was a fine and curated place. You would have come across impressive monastery islands inviting you to stop and rest. There were orchards and herb gardens. Little towns sprinkling the Lagoon. After all, 400,000 people were living in and around Venice in the 16th century! No neglected islands. And no bridge connecting Venice to the mainland,

From the 9th century, San Secondo housed an important monastery which took in visitors and pilgrims. It had large gardens and guest houses. In 1810, this monastery was closed by the French. The Austrians stored powder kegs here. The nuns had to move to the Gesuiti Convent in Venice. Today, you can’t see a trace of San Secondo’s former opulence. The island is overgrown with grass, nettles and bushes and privately owned. You can see it on your left arriving in Venice by car or train, next to the railway bridge so you could almost touch it :-) It still looks like a sentinel guarding the entrance to Venice …

The book Litorali ed Isole by Giannina Piamente (Filippo Editore) published in 196Os includes a very different map of the Lagoon drawn in 1838. The most striking difference is that one “landmark” is missing – the railway bridge built in 1846 by the Austrians, resting on 210 arches. In 1931, a second bridge was built alongside this 4-km-long railway bridge, destined for cars to reach Venice and consisting of concrete walls which are 22 meters wide. This bridge is called Ponte della Libertà.

Ponte della Libertà is no platform built on arches but is actually a concrete barrier damaging the exchange of water currents. The bridge runs along the former watershed of the Lagoon at exactly the line where freshwater and sea water meet and mix, creating a unique habitat.

Actually, we lost many species due to industrialization encroaching upon the Lagoon. Her surface was reduced by one third in the last 100 years. A good source to learn more about this topic is Museo di Storia Naturale in Venice. You can take a first virtual visit here.

L’isola di Campalto in the of the Lago di Campalto basin. San Secondo is located in the right corner.

To be continued. To get acquainted with the Lagoon in the first place, do check out my post in our “Venice in Seven Steps” here !

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2 thoughts on “Unchartered Waters of the Venetian Lagoon: L’Isola della Porta and Lago di Campalto

    1. Thank you Vanessa. This is a part of the Lagoon located next to the mainland, which visitors had to cross to reach Venice for centuries :-) and you still do when you arrive in Venice by car or train …

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