For thousands of years the marshes, swamps and low-lying islands of the lagoons at the extreme north of the Adriatic were real-estate that no one wanted. True, the Romans built the port town of Grado on a tiny island, but that was to support Aquileia, their garrison about ten miles inland. Aquileia was a crucial checkpoint controlling the traffic leaving the Italian peninsula to the northeast and, more importantly, a bulwark against potentially dangerous traffic dressed in bear-skins trying to get into Italy.
In July 2021 researchers at different Italian institutes published in the journal Scientific Reports the discovery of a Roman road underneath Venice, including the remains of a Roman dock near the Treporti canal. This shows there were human settlements in the area centuries before Venice was founded, as well as a road system between the present-day city of Chioggia and the ancient city of Altinus, the study says. Geophysicist Fantina Madricardo said "We carried out the mapping with sonar because we wanted to study the morphology of the canals in 3-D. The data showed 12 man-made structures aligned for over a kilometer in a northeast direction and at a depth of around four meters." This image is a reconstruction
Interest in the seemingly worthless bits and pieces of the northern lagoons was awakened, however, when the western Roman empire collapsed. It happened with alacrity — only a slightly dyslexic variation of the name of the first great barbarian invader, Alaric, who came pillaging in the year 401. Two years later, the Visigoths swarmed in, and a few decades later came the mother of all invasion metaphors, Attila the Hun. Then — we’re not nearly finished — came Theodoric the Ostrogoth in 489 and another wave of generic-brand Goths in 493. Finally, the last great invasion, that of the Longobards swept through the same territory in 568. By this time, as you might well imagine, farmers, fishermen, housewives — heck, even roughnecks who enjoyed a good fight once in a while — living along the main invasion route near the coast decided to move away. Some went west into the mountains and founded a series of hilltop communities that still exist today. Others turned east, bringing their survivor vitality to land which no one else wanted. Thus did a series of remarkable island cultures spring up in the lagoons; people simply trying to get out of the way and be left alone moved out into the marshes and log by log, brick by brick over the centuries painstakingly put together towns with names like Chioggia, Caorle and Venice.
The Venice lagoon is almost at the top of the Adriatic about 100 km across from the Istrian peninsula of Croatia. It is an enclosed bay spread across more the 100 islands of varying size, many of them linked by bridged and canals. The modern metropolitan city of Venice is across the train trestle (upper left of the image) on the mainland. The island "everyone knows" is this image. It is the historic center and is about halfway up the lagoon. The red dot marks the entrance to the Grand Canal (above the dot) directly in from the entrance from the Adriatic (lower right). This image spans about 6km/4 mi from side to side.
Venice, of course, did not just survive; it thrived, ultimately becoming la Serenissima, the Most Serene. Indeed, it is difficult to look at this unique waterborne jewel, this kaleidoscope of canals, bridges, spires, homes, princely palaces and museums, this great Medieval maritime republic, Crusader and China-explorer, this splendid bastion of art, architecture and music, at once a modern city and yet a reliquary of 1000 years of glory —difficult to look at it and think that it all started out as a bunch of refugees in mud hovels. One thinks: If Venice, why not Mars? It couldn’t be much harder.
Venice over the centuries, to say the least, overshadowed her sister settlements in the lagoon; nevertheless, a few of them, too, are worth seeing. Directly to the south of Venice and closing the Venetian lagoon is Chioggia, a town which had its own independent existence for centuries until it fell under the dominion of its powerful neighbor. It then served as a defensive bulwark for the lagoon, bearing the brunt of invaders from the sea trying to get at Venice, itself. Modern times has seen the economy of the island taken over almost completely by commercial fishing. Motorized traffic now buzzes around the streets as Chioggia has been connected to the mainland by a bridge since 1921. The physical layout of Chioggia is quite simple. There are three canals crossed by a number of small streets. There is one main boulevard. The island is accessible directly by car from the southern end of the lagoon or by bus and ferry from Lido, the northernmost of the three islands in the lagoon. Although there is by now a tourist trade in Chioggia, there are lots of sturdy fishing craft plying the waters — and there is not a single festooned gondola. Chioggia is clearly a working-class neighborhood.North of Venice is the small town of Caorle, originally called Caprulae by the settlers who fled the Longobards to found it in the sixth century. Over its long history it has been dominated by Venice, sacked by Trieste and Genoa, and, in general, not had a particularly significant history. Yet, it is notable today for its Cathedral from the eleventh century. Even farther north, at the very top of the Adriatic, is Grado, itself, which became even more important than it had been as a harbor for Aquileia; it prospered as a haven for those from Aquilea fleeing the invaders. The religious history, too, of Grado is fascinating in that it was an important center of the early Christian faith. The Basilica of Santa Eufemia, stemming from the sixth century, is a notable example of a paleo-Christian church, and the town was the focal point of an early schism between Rome and Constantinople in the seventh century. Grado is today an orderly array of symmetrical little blocks housing its modern population of about 10,000. If you are in that area, then the town of Aquilea, too, is a must. It has extensive Roman ruins, attesting to its importance as one of the largest cities in the Roman empire and gateway between east and west within that empire.
2. added Nov. 2, 2018 -- on the MOSE project to save the lagoon and city from flooding.
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Who is the Bellini Cocktail Named for?
I recently sent dear Laura the image you see here. This is the island of San Francesco del Deserto in the Venice lagoon. I knew that she loved Venice and thought simply "nice photo." I taught with Laura for many years for the Elder Hostel program in Sorrento. I remember her fondly as an opera singer who knows everything about music. She answered my email and mentioned the "famous Bellini painting" of the island. Ho-ho, thought I —opera singers! So I calmly said,"You have music on the brain. Bellini is the guy who wrote music. You mean 'Bernini'— father and son sculptors and painters." So she let her hair down and upbraided me. I now agonizingly (but fondly!) also recall that she is also the art historian who cattle-prodded me through the Capodimonte art galleries until my legs ached to be knee-capped by the mob. Her answer:
Giovanni Bellini, after whom the famous Venetian drink* is named, is a painter in the generation just preceding Tiziano. He and his brother Gentile Bellini studied one-point perspective with the Florentine Master Donatello who lived in Padua and taught to Venice what Florence had just discovered. Giovanni Bellini was a Madonniere —one who specialized in painting the mother of Christ, and is known for his exquisite Madonnas with the peach colored skin— hence the white peaches mixed with Prosecco became the aperitivo named Bellini, introduced by Harry’s Bar** after a prominent art exhibit in Venice.notes:
Bellini, Mantegna, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and the enigmatic author of La Tempesta, Giorgione, form the Venetian school of Renaissance painting. After my time in Sorrento at the Capodimonte gallery, I became absorbed in the beauty that is Venice and the entire march of art history. Just for laughs, the Florentines jousted with the Venetians over the antipodal stances of colorito and drawing. Michelangelo had the nerve to say that the Venetians didn’t know how to draw. And yet it was the Venetians whose explosion of colors pushed the Renaissance to a new level. Mathematical one- point perspective brings a rational satisfaction to the mind. But their colors begin to swirl and scream with human emotion —your're in a new phase of painting. To me, it culminates in Turner, who feels how the Venetians use color to bring us into an emotionally intensified world. And one can easily pull the impressionists out of a hat!!
*The Bellini cocktail was invented between 1934 and 1948 by Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of Harry's Bar in Venice, Italy. He named the drink the Bellini because its unique pink color recalled the toga of a saint in a painting by 15th-century Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini. The drink is an official cocktail, one of many, in the International Bartenders Association's World Cocktail Competition in bartending. The nitty-gritty is 2 parts chilled Prosecc and 1 part fresh white peach purée. Your Proseccage may vary, but mix in neither nit nor grit.
**On May 13, 1931, Giuseppe Cipriani Sr. opened Harry’s Bar in Venice. Over the years, Harry’s Bar became the place to meet for writers, painters, artists, aristocrats, kings and queens. Among them: Barbara Hutton, Katherine Hepburn, Gary Cooper, Giancarlo Menotti, Peggy Guggenheim, Orson Welles, Frank Lloyd Wright, Joe di Maggio, Truman Capote and Ernest Hemingway.
Laura now adds: "Harry was a 'Boston Brahmin' (the city's upper class —be rich and go to Harvard). Giuseppe, the owner, named it for him because Harry came back to Venice once just to pay a bar tab! —and to hang out with Hemingway. Both griped that there was no real booze in the place, so Giuseppe started stocking whisky in a store-room. You sat on crates. They got chairs, the storeroom became a real bar and, voilà, a watering hole for the rich and famous. I used to point all that out as part of my Music Tour. Why? Because that’s where Aristotle Onassis met opera diva Maria Callas. Ari liked to moor his tub in Venice and eventually invited her on board. That's musical, right?
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4. added Sept. 2021
Cruising Down the River on a
S unday A fternoo... Giant Violin
apologies to the original © 1946 song: music, Dayne; lyrics, Beadell 6 Tollerton"Noah's Violin", a giant floating violin by Venetian sculptor Livio De Marchi, journeyed through Venice's Grand Canal on Saturday. The trademark gondolas of Venice's Grand Canal played second fiddle this weekend to a very unusual vessel: A giant violin carrying a live string quartet. This large-scale replica is made from about a dozen different kinds of wood, with nuts, bolts and space for a motor inside. De Marchi said the violin is a "sign of Venice restarting." He named it after Noah's ark because he sees it as bringing a message of hope — artistically and culturally — after a storm. The violin made its journey down the canal on Saturday, as musicians on board performed works by Vivaldi (De Marchi also cited the Venetian violinist and composer as a source of inspiration for the craft's design. After its roughly hour-long ride, the violin was blessed by a reverend, who said he hoped it would send a message of hope to the world. Businesses in Italy and a museum in China have already expressed interest.