Translation edited by: Arianna Cassani.
The things that distinguish a special place from a normal one and that extend its charm and its mystery are the myths and the legends that run around it. An enchanting city as Venice is could not fail to have his history.
According to the legend, in the 10th century, Venice was a deserted place, uninhabited and swampy.
At the time of Attila invasion, when the Hun king devastated the land of Venice and destroyed Aquileia, the people called Venetians had to flee from that place and seek refugee in the islands around Venice because they wanted to escape from their fears and nightmares.
On the Byzantine origins of Venice, there’s no doubt. It is composed of 124 islands, inhabited from the 7th century A.D.
Placed between the mainland and the open sea, along the central-northern and the southern shores of Veneto, Venice is in the middle of a lagoon: a pond of shallow waters separated from the sea by thick strips of land. It empties and it fills up of new water twice a day thanks to three different inlets.
The city was not born from a town centre that then developed and extended, but it was born from different villages that have joined between themselves. The roads of Venice are know as calli (it derives from the Latin word callis and it means street, way), but they can also have different names: fondamenta, path that runs near a stream; ruga, road where You can find shops; piscina, once swampy land that now is underground; ramo, at the side of a main road, often with no exit. Due to scarce building areas, it was necessary to plan ways that ran under the buildings (sotoporteghi), or steal surface to the road (barbacane), without narrowing its width. Some roads are called salizade, because in the past centuries where the only ones that were paved.
There are 438 bridges in the city, made with bricks, iron or wood, according to the composition of the shores, and they are essential to the public driveability because they link the different islands that compose the city. Most of them are the ones that tourists photograph, from Rialto to Calatrava, but the most picturesque bridge of Venice is the Ponte dei Sospiri. It is placed near San Marco Square and connects Palazzo Ducale to Prigioni Nuove. On that bridge, that oversteps Rio di Palazzo, thousands of people under investigation and people sentenced at the time of Serenissima dragged their chains: from the windows of the bridge the poor souls gazed at the sky for the last time, sighing.
The watercourses have two different names, the streams unlike the canals are rivers (many of them are navigable) of the old town of Venice that separate the insulae where we can find the dwellings; while the canals are the actual carriageways of the boats that are the main means of transport of Venice. Well, I was about to forget the rive: that’s to say the dockings placed along the shores of the canals and the streams.
In the past, almost all the squares in Italy were dominated by the fields, today there are few of that kind out of Venice. In this city, the only one is San Marco Square; all over we can find campi or campielli even if they are small. The reason why they are called in this way is due to the fact that they were green spaces where people grew or breed cattle. In the middle of every field it was common to see a spring made with bricks on which it was put the pulley.
The Venetian buildings are famous all over the world for their refinement and beauty, the basic scheme of the building goes back to the casa fondaco, the residence of the merchant family. They were developed on three different levels, where the ground floor was used as storage room or as point of sale; the hall on the first floor, called portego, was the place of representation and on the top floor there was the attic, where there were the rooms for the servants.
The unexpected Venice is the one that we can find in the alleys and in the foundations rarely visited by the tourists, where it is possible to catch sight of the habits and of the customs of who inhabits those places.
Tiziano and Tintoretto had guessed right in choosing Cannaregio as place of residence. Maybe called like this because of the denomination of Canal Regio that crosses the sestiere from San Giobbe up to San Geremia and that links the lagoon to the Canal Grande, Cannaregio, placed in the north of Venice, is one of the biggest sestiere of the city, and also the most highly populated.
In between bridges, foundations and alleys, people get lost in amazing colors and sumptuous residences You can peacefully enjoy the atmosphere of a city that in other spots is stormed by visitors that follow the sightseeing tour.
Crossing the Ponte delle Guglie and entering Calle del Ghetto Vecchio, You can enter the Venetian ghetto where in 1516 a law of the Republic Senate established the forced domicile of Jews in this small island, surrounded by waters and with just two inlets, kept under surveillance at night. The peculiarity of this place is determined by the fact that the buildings are tall and they can house many people.
Walking beyond the ghetto, crossing the ancient iron bridge, travelling along the Fondamenta dei Ormesini, You can explore Cannaregio and You can also get to the lagoon. It seems as if You are in another city and people can get lost in the silences of these roads that weave together with the streams.
In Venice, as a matter of fact, we can only hope to get lost in its unique magic.