Archive for Venetian History


What was your name again?

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1x1.trans What was your name again?

Walking home the other day, I cast my eye, as usual, on the building corner which Lino refers to as “The Wailing Wall.”  Meaning no disrespect to the original place of that name, our little angle is the perfect spot to tape up death notices.  I’ve mentioned on other occasions that the cost to publish such a notice in the Gazzettino is totally fantastical, so these rectangles of plastic are extremely useful in keeping people up to date on for whom the bell is tolling.

But I don’t usually expect to see names I recognize, mainly because the number of people I know who might be likely to demise is very limited.  And although some surnames are a little unusual, there are very few which hurl one back 700 years into one of the most complicated and desperate conspiracies ever formed to attempt the overthrow of the Venetian Republic.

So I was unprepared to see a new notice stuck on the wall, complete with photo of the deceased, announcing the death of Baiamonte Tiepolo.

This name may not connote much to you, but anyone who has skimmed Venetian history knows it as the name of one of the most audacious revolutionaries who ever tried to scuttle somebody’s government.

It was like seeing a notice for some innocuous little person who just happened to be named Benedict Arnold, or Oliver Cromwell, or Ernesto Guevara, or Gregory Rasputin.

As for someone bearing the name of a renowned Venetian noble family, this isn’t quite so startling.  I interviewed a descendant of doge Jacopo Tiepolo some years ago, and I know that there are Grimanis and Zorzis and Da Mosto’s still roaming the city.  I have also met a young woman carrying forward the storied name of Bragadin.

But it’s one thing to bear the last name; if you were a Bragadin, I think it would be cruel to name your son Marcantonio.  The name is certainly worthy of remembrance, but the boy’s life would be hell.  There are only so many witty remarks you can make to someone whose forebear was flayed alive after an epic siege that lasted almost a year, and the lad would have to hear all of them.

On the same note, the Venice phone book lists two men named Marco Polo.  They must have been doomed to a life of a steady drizzle of really funny remarks.  “Hey, Marco — back so soon?”  “Give my regards to the Khan, next time you see him.”  “Did you really invent pasta?”  And so on.

For the late Baiamonte, the drollery would have had to be more erudite, and I won’t risk any here because life is short, and by the time one (that is, me) has related as much as possible of his ancestor’s spectacular, if also scurrilous, story, the potential for humor would have dried up and blown away in the wind.  But I feel safe in saying that, thanks to his namesake and his cohorts, the year 1310 stands out in Venetian history as much as 1492 or 1776 stands out in the American annals.

Here is the drastically condensed version of his story. The plot was foiled, he was exiled for four years, and his palace was torn down.  He spent those years traveling, visiting Venice’s enemies (Padova, Treviso, Rovigo, and some very powerful families therein) doing everything conceivable to convince them to join him in another conspiracy. He just wouldn’t give up.

Not amused, Venice changed the sentence to perpetual exile.  He wandered around Dalmatia seeking new collaborators.  He was imprisoned.  He escaped.  The Venetian government forbade anybody to have anything to do with him.  Finally, in 1329, the Council of Ten decreed that he had to be eliminated, by any means.

The details of Baiamonte’s death are uncertain, which is not surprising when a person has to be eliminated. (The “Caught a cold and stopped breathing” explanation has often been sufficient.)  As for location, at least one historian states that he was in Croatia, staying with relatives, when his last day came and went.

For the Tiepolos of Lower Castello, maybe it was a point of pride to name their son Baiamonte. It couldn’t have been inadvertent.  I can’t imagine somebody saying “Heavenly days, it never crossed my mind that somebody would think of the old subversive of blackened fame.”

I notice, though, that he named his son Andrea.  Maybe he had had enough.

1x1.trans What was your name again?

The great conspirator’s palace at Campo Sant’ Agostin was razed, and a “column of infamy” detailing his crimes was erected in its place. Eventually the column was broken up, and this abbreviated summary placed on the pavement: “Location of column of Baiamonte Tiepolo 1310.”


Categories : Venetian History
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The Gioachin Question

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A sharp-eyed reader who read my recent post on Carlo de Ghega has written to the “Comments” page with the following salient observation:

Gioachin Erla? The marvelous iMaps+ doesn’t help, but the index to my typical Venice map lists a Gioacchino S Fm at E9, and there it is, at what iMaps calls Fondamenta San Giovacchino. No wonder he’s “famous”.

Checking up on street spelling might be as good an excuse as any to plan a stroll around Ghega’s native heath, but I will help those who are farther away by giving evidence here of the spelling on the nizioleto.

For anyone coming in late to this epic, which is beginning to resemble Ben-Hur mixed with Michael Strogoff and 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, here is the link to the Preface, Backstory, Prequel, Dramatis Personae, Nihil Obstat, or whatever one wants to call it.

1x1.trans The Gioachin Question

Here is the nizioleto located five steps away from the plaque to Carlo de Ghega. The writers and carvers thereof chose to spell the name of his street as “Gioachino,” that misbegotten half-Venetian, half-Italian lingo which was one of several causes of the Great Nizioleti Uprising of 2013.

1x1.trans The Gioachin Question

Perhaps, for reasons unknown, the plaque-creators decided to copy from this nizioleto, rather than the other ones around, such as just across the little bridge to the right.

1x1.trans The Gioachin Question

I’ve always liked the fact that the Venetians named the fondamenta for Saint Anne and the bridge (and facing fondamenta) for her husband, Saint Joachim. You know, “and in their death they were not divided.”

Which brings me to a dead end in the cartographic road, so to speak.  Simply put, I cannot understand — and I’ve tried — why makers of Venice maps don’t write the street names to match what’s on the walls.  It’s so sublimely idiotic that even my brain, which idiocytropic, refuses to deal with it.  Where the matter of street-names-on-maps-differing-from-street-names-on-streets is concerned, my brain is like a cat examining a new product in its food dish, a product which even after a few minutes hasn’t yet inspired any urge to proceed. Sniffing, looking, and even licking haven’t produced any reaction at all.  Perhaps I have overdone this metaphor.  I haven’t really licked anything involving maps.

If anyone knows, or even imagines that he/she knows, or even has just a wild theory, as to why mapmakers publish street names which are not the same as the street signs in this extremely foreign country otherwise known as the most beautiful city in the world, I would be grateful to be told.

Then I could go back to looking and sniffing at other things.

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The battle of the woodcuts

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1x1.trans The battle of the woodcuts

The house of Aldus Manutius in Venice appears to be inhabited, but we can only gaze upon the plaque and meditate on his brilliance from the street.

1x1.trans The battle of the woodcuts

“In this house that belonged to Aldus Pius Manutius the Aldine Academy gathered and from here the light of Greek letters returned to shine upon civilized peoples. The department of Greek letters of the University of Padua in the year 1876 1877 wished to designate this famous place to future generations.”

As all the world knows, Venice used to be one of the most important cities in Europe for printing — books, music, heretical works banned by the Catholic church.  Even in the last century there were still 20 printing presses in Venice.

If one were to want to know more, it’s pretty much enough just to read the story of Aldus Manutius (Aldo Manuzio, in Italian), who singlehandedly midwifed the Renaissance by printing (and translating) many of the Greek classics which survived antiquity, few as they are.  Do I exaggerate?  It’s thanks to him we non-Greek-speaking people can read Aristotle, Thucydides, Sophocles, Herodotus, Xenophon, Euripides, Demosthenes….

He also invented the pocket-sized book, and italic letters.  You see how many things we take for granted?

But this is not a post about Aldus.  It’s about Antonio Gardano and Johannes Buglhat and their big battle of the woodcuts.

They were part of the brigades of other excellent printers hard at work in the 15th and 16th centuries, and these printers were not all drinking buddies.  Being merchants, they had to keep a sharp eye on their competitors.  Sometimes very sharp eyes.

A friend has sent me an article by David Plylar, from the Library of Congress blog, which deals with the woodcut slanging between the aforementioned publishers.

Rather than reprint it here, the author has suggested that I only give the link.  I myself think it’s pretty funny.  But you decide.

1x1.trans The battle of the woodcuts

Gardano’s printer’s mark featured the lion and bear of his patron, Leone Orsini.


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Urban “renewal”

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1x1.trans Urban renewal

One of Napoleon’s most famous, and easy to notice, alterations to Venice was the destruction of the church of San Geminiano in the “mouth” of the Piazza San Marco, here shown in a painting by Canaletto. It was designed by Jacopo Sansovino and had been there for several centuries, but the little corporal wanted to build a ballroom and the church was in the way.

1x1.trans Urban renewal

The result was a homogeneous stretch of building dubbed the “Ala Napoleonica,” or “Napoleonic Wing.”  The space is now occupied by the Correr Museum. (Naya Collection).

Talk about Venetian history long enough — say, eight minutes, or even less — and you will almost certainly refer at least once to Napoleon Bonaparte.  If you are somehow able to avoid mentioning him, you should embed the secret in a cellphone game because I think it would be a challenge.

And why is this?  Because on May 12, 1797, his army entered Venice and the Venetian Republic fell forever.  That was one day.  Then the damage really began.

Napoleon craved Venice for several reasons,  one of which was that it was the richest city in Europe. He needed money to pay for his wars, and when he was done, the city was eviscerated of tons of art works, precious metals, and gems. His soldiers spent two weeks carting treasures out of the basilica of San Marco. What he stripped from the “Bucintoro,” the doge’s state barge, was enough to keep most of us in Kobe steak for the rest of our lives.

Even if you didn’t know that, you walk through his handiwork in the course of any ordinary stroll here — through campos named for saints whose churches are nowhere to be found, for example – because the Venice we see today is the result of months of devastation wrought upon the city in the fulfillment of his ideas.

1x1.trans Urban renewal

Napoleon decided that the city needed a public garden — Le Bois de Castello? — more than it needed the buildings which occupied the space where the Giardini Pubblici are today. Yes, the trees are nice. So were the church and convent of San Domenico, the church and convent of San Nicolo’ di Bari, the “hospital” of the marinai, or sailors, the church and convent of the Concezione di Maria Vergine , and the church and convent of Sant’Antonio Abate.

If you want to try to imagine the city before it was disemboweled (I often try, and usually fail), here is a partial list of the buildings Napoleon got his hands on. My source is “Storie delle Chiese dei Monasteri delle Scuole di Venezia Rapinate e Distrutte da Napoleone Bonaparte” by Cesare Zangirolami (Filippi Editore – Venezia).  Some of these structures were completely demolished, some merely gutted and abandoned, or decommissioned, so to speak, like sinking battleships, and used as warehouses (coal, tobacco, etc.) or assorted other really practical purposes, such as barracks.  A few have been restored and resuscitated, but not to their former use — you’ll recognize the names of some you’ll have at least walked past.  This list does not include the 80-some palaces he razed. Nor the tombs of doges and patricians which have disappeared.  But the book does list each work of art which is gone forever.

Abbey of San Cipriano


Dell’Anconeta. Sant’Agnese, Sant’Agostino, Sant’Anna, Sant’Antonio Abate, Sant’Anzolo, Sant’Apollonia, Sant’Aponal, dell’Ascensione, San Basegio, San Basso, San Bernardo, San Biagio, San Biagio e Cataldo, San Boldo, San Bonaventura, Cavalieri di Malta, della Celestia, delle Convertite, del Corpus Domini, della Croce, della Croce alla Zuecca, San Cataldo, Santa Chiara, Santa Chiara di Murano, Santi Cosma e Damiano, San Daniele, San Domenico, Sant’Elena, Santi Filippo e Giacomo, San Geminiano, San Giacomo di Rialto, San Giacomo della Zuecca, San Giovanni Battista, San Giovanni Battista dei Battuti, San Giovanni dei Furlani, San Giovanni Laterano, San Girolamo, San Giuseppe di Murano, Santa Giustina, della Grazia, San Gregorio, Santa Lena, San Leonardo, San Lorenzo, Santi Marco e Andrea, Santa Margarita (sic), Santa Maria Annunziata, Santa Maria Celeste, Santa Maria degli Angeli, Santa Maria della Carita’, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Santa Maria delle Vergini, Santa Maria del Pianto, Santa Maria Maddalena, Santa Maria Maggiore, Santa Maria Nova, Santa Marina, Santa Marta, San Martino Vescovo, San Matteo Apostolo, San Matteo di Murano, San Mattia, San Maurizio, San Michele Arcangelo, San Nicoletto della Lattuga, San Nicolo’ di Bari, Ognissanti, San Paternian, San Pietro Martire, San Provolo, del Santo Sepolcro, dello Spirito Santo, San Salvador di Murano, Santa Scolastica, San Sebastiano, San Severo, Santa Sofia, San Stefano di Murano, San Stin, Santa Ternita, della Trasfigurazione, della Santissima Trinita’, dell’Umilta’, San Vio.

Islands (not the islands themselves but the edifices upon them) :

Sant’Andrea, la Certosa, San Cristoforo della Pace, San Giorgio in Alga, della Grazia, San Secondo.

Monasteries: (in some cases the structures remain and are even in use, but he dismembered their congregations, some of which were admittedly small, but still. I’ve been to many offices which are housed in former convents and cloisters).

Sant’Anna, Sant’Antonio Abate, San Bernardo, Santi Biagio e Cataldo, Santa Chiara di Murano, Santi Cosma e Damiano, della Croce, San Daniele, delle Dimesse, San Domenico, San Francesco della Vigna, San Giacomo, San Giovanni Battista, San Giovanni Laterano, San Giuseppe, San Lorenzo, Santi Marco e Andrea, Santa Maria degli Angeli, Santa Maria dei Servi, Santa Maria delle Vergini, Santa Maria del Pianto, Santa Maria Maddalena, San Martino Vescovo, San Matteo, San Mattia, San Michele di Murano, San Pietro Martire, del Santo Sepolcro.

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The Scuola degli Albanesi in Calle del Piovan. It’s really hard to notice, let alone appreciate, this wonderful image in such a narrow street. (Photo: John Dall’Orco)

Oratorio della Concezione, Oratorio di Sant’Orsola.

Ospitale degli Incurabili, Ospitale dei Marinai.

Patriarcato (at San Pietro di Castello, the palace of the Patriarch of Venice till 1807, when San Marco was made the city’s cathedral).

Priorato (Priory) di Malta

Scuole (headquarters of the many guilds and confraternities):

degli Albanesi, della Carita’, San Francesco, San Girolamo, San Giovanni dei Battuti, San Giovanni Evangelista, della Madonna della Pace, San Marco, Santa Maria e Cristoforo, dei Mercanti, della Misericordia, del Nome di Gesu’, dei Pittori, della Santissima Trinita’, dei Stampatori i Librari, San Stefano, San Teodoro, Dei Varotari.

And people talk about Attila.

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One of my favorite hidden-in-plain-sight monuments is this plaque (1531) above the door of what used to be the Scuola di Santa Maria degli Albanesi, or scuola of St. Mary of the Albanians. It is in the Calle del Piovan, which leads from Campo San Maurizio to Campo Santo Stefano. The scene depicts Sultan Mehmed II (his Grand Vizier in low relief behind him) who is observing the castle of Scutari (today Shkoder), which fell to the Turks in 1479, after which there was an influx of Albanians into Venice.


1x1.trans Urban renewal
Categories : Venetian History
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