Cesare Peris holds the replica of the banner borne by Tiepolo’s escadrille — it was the man carrying the flag who took the hit from the falling marble mortar. The image on this banner depicting the fatal event is clearly a modern addition.
I have already recounted most of this story elsewhere, but it’s worth recalling because it is one of the milestone episodes of Venetian history. Also because today is the anniversary of the attempted coup, on June 15, 1310, to overthrow the Venetian government.
Not to begin a whole other train of trivia, but while we may be inclined to cheer the defeat of the three conspirators because we like how Venice turned out, it’s worth knowing that in 1310, as John Julius Norwich relates, Doge Pietro Gradenigo was the most detested man in Venice.
Certain typically arrogant actions of his had driven Pope Clement V to excommunicate the entire city-nation, which led Venice to the brink of commercial collapse. An unwinnable war with the aforementioned pope consisted mainly of Venetian defeats, and increasing numbers of the doge’s enemies were convinced that Gradenigo’s policies were bringing disgrace and disaster on everyone. Anger, tension, and fear were seething through the city, and a series of decrees intended to contain the discontent was, paradoxically, bringing the city to the verge of civil war. It was quite evident to several young patricians that it was time for a very big change.
The attempted coup by Bajamonte Tiepolo, Piero and Marco Querini, and Badoero Badoer failed for a number of reasons, one of which (surprising to me, and especially to the plotters) was lack of popular support at the crucial moment. I don’t understand this part very well, but it’s a story well worth reading in more detail, though not here.
In any case, they weren’t merely three young bloods who wanted to try their hand at ruling the world. They were the ones who bubbled up to the top of the political pot as it was in the process of boiling over.
Now it’s June 15 again, 705 years later. And it has come to pass over a certain period of time leading up to today that the Mutual Aid Society of Carpenters and Caulkers (full disclosure: I am a member), under the aegis of Cesare Peris, its “gastaldo,” or president, exhumed the very banner carried by Baiamonte Tiepolo as he was charging through the city toward the Doge’s Palace.
Not only that. This banner, which had been slumbering somewhere in the Museo Correr, needed fixing. With funding from a sponsor, the Caulkers commissioned (A) the restoration of the old silk banner, which by now was not in very sparkly condition, and (B) a replica of the banner, with a few small modifications. And to undertake this work, art restorer Anna Passarella, in Padova, was engaged; she in turn engaged a squad of high school students at the Marco Polo-Liceo Artistico (high school of art) in Venice. Yes, this task was accomplished by 15- and 16-year-olds. If that isn’t sufficiently noteworthy, let me add that one them is a direct descendant, I was told, of the fateful doge Gradenigo. Not made up.
On Side B of the flag are the symbols of the sponsors, including the group that made it.
This morning the banner was unfurled in Campo San Luca, carried in procession along the main route used by Tiepolo and Querini (attacking and then fleeing), with a pause at each important place along the way during which costumed trumpeters fanfared and a costumed crier read the story, step by step. Too bad his voice was never loud enough to be heard over the chaos of the herds of tourists crushing their way through our group, but it was quite nice that he was reading in Venetian, and then in English.
The whole ceremony took about an hour, and then the banner was taken away to safekeeping.
I suppose that thousands of tourists will now go home thinking Venetians carry banners around the city, with trumpet fanfares, every day.
Actually, that’s not the worst idea I’ve ever heard, but next time we ought to do it at 6:00 AM, before Venice-Mart opens its doors for the day.
The trumpet corps waiting for their cue. Members of the Mutual Aid Society of Carpenters and Caulkers, dressed in white polo shirts, are also awaiting developments.
The trumpets sound, and we’re ready to start the walk.
The audience was very enthusiastic, but we hadn’t gotten to the bottlenecks yet, hence we were all still friends.
The Great Trek begins.
Wending to the Ponte dei Bareteri.
We pause on the bridge for another fanfare and another chapter in the tale.
This is the Mercerie, where things began to get interesting for them, and, in a less life-threatening way, also for us.
The apex of the experience was here, just before passing under the Clock Tower at San Marco, at the point below the “old lady”‘s house from which her marble mortar fell and turned the tide of history. No one knows to this day if she did it on purpose or if it was an accident.
Her name was Lucia (or Giustina) Rossi, and I’m convinced her daughters had nagged her for years to bring that damn mortar inside before she killed somebody.
Then Cesare Peris (left) and a colleague set the flag outside the windows of what had been the old woman’s apartment. I wish you could have heard everyone singing here: The trumpets played the Hymn of San Marco, which everyone sang with great fervor. Then Cesare cried “Par tera e par mar!” (by land and by sea) and everyone bellowed “SAN MARCO!!” We repeated this three times. It was totally thrilling.
Halfway across the Piazza San Marco, turn right, and we stopped on the Ponte dei Dai, across which Querini and his conspirators fled toward the Rialto Bridge. There were crowds then, there are crowds now. At least it wasn’t raining today, like it was back then.
We stopped atop the Rialto Bridge, which in 1310, being wooden, was easy for Querini to burn on his race back to his palace. Because of vast restoration work on the bridge now, the traffic has become even more crushing. This is the best I could do for a photo. Naturally nobody could hear anything that was being said.
Down the Rialto Bridge and back to Campo San Luca. Oh yes, I love Venice in the summer. Only for Querini and Tiepolo would I ever have come to this part of the city today.
As the gonfalone of San Marco was raised at the end of the ceremony, the standard of the Carpenters and Caulkers (Carpentieri e Calafati) came to the fore. If you don’t like the color red, you’d have had to stay home today.
An unfortunate absence of wind left the gonfalone in a somewhat woebegone state. But we sang and shouted again, and I, for one, went away happy.
The cimiero, or crest, which crowns the standard of the Mutual Aid Society of the Carpenters and Caulkers. If Querini or Tiepolo had had a handful of these tools, the story might have ended differently. Just a theory.
For the past few days there have been extremely low tides, June being the second period in the year (after January) in which this phenomenon occurs. All this area would normally be covered with water, to some depth, however modest. While it doesn’t surprise me anymore, I still feel strangely happy to see the underpinnings of the lagoon as such close quarters.
We rowed along the edge of this exposed prairie. I noticed a yellow motorboat sitting definitively on the ground; its owner, somewhere nearby, was obviously counting on having plenty of time to dig clams before the tide came to float his boat away.
As you see.
Next Sunday Venetians will go to the polls to vote in a runoff election for the new mayor. Yes, a year has passed since the Good Ship Venice ran aground and was put under a temporary administrator who managed to get her off the rocks and pump the bilge, but who had no power to plot the new course.
Whichever of the two candidates wins will then proceed to dive — a graceful swan? armstand back 3 somersault 2 1/2 twist tuck? — into a mar dilacrime, or “sea of tears,” as they put it here. To continue the liquidy metaphor, our brains have been soaked in campaign promises, which, now that I think of it, would be a good way to learn some basic Italian. The phrases are so simple, and so repetitive.
Washing one’s brain has one good thing about it — it might remove the mental stains splattered by the politicians in the course of what they consider a typical day. An example: Giancarlo Galan, former governor of the Veneto Region, has spent much of the past year on house arrest for taking bribes and other forms of corruption, jail time served in his luxurious villa on the mainland. Does he feel remorse? Certainly he would feel it if he thought he’d done anything wrong. But as he doesn’t, he’s ready to return to Parliament as soon as his stint is finished. Yes: Convicted felons get to go back to work for the government.
My only defense is to run away. I flee to the lagoon and I make no apology. Technically, the season is still spring, but the sun wants to get going on summer right away and has made an excellent start. Temperatures in the low nineties (F) or low thirties (C). Hot, by any scale. Breeze. No clouds. Dream weather for going to the beach or — my personal favorite, as everyone knows — drying laundry.
It’s also ideal weather for fleeing. Here are some things I’ve noticed over the past week or so.
Low tide makes hunting for canestrelli, or scallops (Aequipecten opercularis) relatively easy, even though they are extremely well camouflaged by a shell color which totally mimics the sandy bottom. Lino managed a tidy little haul, which he proceeded to bread and fry the same evening. Delectable.
An inch of water is enough to keep the eelgrass moving in one direction with the tide, like tresses. And a few denizens appear on the surface, like this tiny crab. Crabs are a good sign; where there are crabs, there will also be plenty of fish who nosh on them. When you pull in a net, it’s normal to see some half-gnawed crabs. and if you go fishing for eels, soft-shell crabs (“moeche”) are the perfect bait.
Unhappily, this female moeca is now defunct, awaiting either some adventurous nosher or mere disintegration.
We pulled our boat onto the dryish grassland to investigate what appear to be megaliths (or miniliths) from the Evora complex, but which we knew were exposed fan mussels (Pinna nobilis).
A good example; they burrow in the sediment and open their shells slightly to consume whatever food might drift by.
What really intrigued me, though, were the several mounds of spongy material here and there. Lino knew immediately that they were the eggs of sea snails (“garusoli,” or “noni”). And this mound was far from dormant. Most of the creatures were showing some signs of life, and one was atop the mound, evidently laying more.
As you may perhaps see here.
There’s even a fan mussel nearby. I don’t see that it can be much use, but maybe it’s waiting to eat something. Nature, red in tooth and shell.
The rising tide approaches, beginning to submerge all these wonders.
And has begun to lift our boat. Time to continue on our trip to Sant’ Erasmo to buy vegetables and check the progress of the season ashore.
For one brief interlude, the tamarisks, artichokes and poppies were all in bloom.
Although tamarisks produce what may be among the least interesting flowers, they do have their own strange appeal. Especially when they begin to dry up and blow away, covering the nearby water with pale beige mats of old blossom.
This is a small tree producing the even smaller plum known locally as “suchete.” For reasons I can’t explain, the Venetian word for zucchine is also “suchete.” Be careful when you’re looking up recipes.
A chicken and her chicks. What could be more springlike than this?
This mountain of marble and metal was created by Roman sculptor Ettore Ferrari in honor of King Vittorio Emanuele II, and was inaugurated on May 1, 1887, nine years after the king’s demise.
As anyone who has ever walked along the Riva degli Schiavoni knows, there is a honking big statue in the middle of the street.
Many (most? all?) countries can boast imposing effigies of men on horseback, usually brandishing a saber, or their hat, or maybe a banner. Brandishing, anyway.
Considering that, in the case of the mounted man on the Riva, nobody has seen fit to provide even the tiniest clue as to who he is, you’ve probably been satisfied to surmise that somewhere, at some time, this man did something bronzeworthy..
Then you take pictures of the more memorable lions, and move on.
But for anyone who would, in fact, like to know what’s up with all these characters, I am ready to reveal all. And my excuse is the date, June 2, which is a national holiday known as the Festa della Repubblica, or Republic Day. Although the man relates only inversely to the event (more on that below), I’m exploiting this occasion because there isn’t another one around that fits him any better.
The swordbearing cavalier is King Vittorio Emanuele II (also known as the “Father of the Fatherland”), and he was the first king of the newly created nation of Italy. Clicking on that link will spare us slowing down for a reprise of most of the details; the “juice” of the subject, as they put it here, is that in 1861 Italy pulled itself together to form one nation out of many assorted mini-nations, duchies, and kingdoms.
The pulling-together process was long, toilsome, and often extremely bloody. Then the newly-minted Italians, having established the Kingdom of Italy on March 17, 1861, had to find a ruler. The mantle fell on the aforementioned Vittorio Emanuele, a member of the House of Savoy (one of the oldest ruling families in Europe), who was already King of Sardinia and, more important, had been a major participant in the Unification process.
Some of the main events which led to this moment, with several Venetian codicils, are depicted in nearly insane detail on the monument, as follows:
Our story begins with Venice represented as a heroic woman as well as by the winged lion of San Marco. The scene recalls the condition of the former Serenissima under the oppression of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and its soldiers who occupied the city until 1861. Her sword is broken, her flagstaff snapped, and the lion is gnawing at his chains. Her cap recalls the doge’s “corno,” the characteristic hat of the Venetian dukes.
At her feet is a shattered shield, with the dates 1848-1849 in the center. This was the period of the doomed uprising against the Austrians led by Daniele Manin, and the short-lived establishment of the Republic of Venice. Still more important is the fact that his uprising was part of a larger series of conflicts against the Austrians in northern Italy in what is generally called the “First War of Independence.” Around the border are incised the names of certain important battles: Monte Berico, Marghera, Goito, Mestre.
On the north side is the shield bearing the simple emblem of the House of Savoy, and above it a tangled scene in relief which shows the future king in the process of defeating the Austrians at the battle of Palestro (May 31, 1859). He personally fought at the head of the Sardinian bersaglieri.
A generic scene of grisly combat, with the not-yet-king front and center.
On to the happy ending. Austria defeated, Venice once again proud, with full sword and snarling lion unchained.
The lion’s right paw tramples not only a few links of the former chain, but a document with the date “1815” inscribed on it. That year saw many momentous events, but for our purposes it signifies the Congress of Vienna, which marked the earliest step toward the eventual Unification of Italy.
On October 21 and 22, 1866, Venetians voted on the proposal to join the Kingdom of Italy. The number of votes are inscribed here: Yes 641,758, No 69.
On the hem of the robe of victorious Venice is a single name: MANIN.
On the south side, we see the king’s arrival on his first state visit to Venice.
On November 7, 1866 King Victor Emanuele II entered Venice and rendered homage to the city in the Piazza San Marco.
A detail of the king pausing before the majestic scene, which lacked the now permanent contingent of illegal sellers of pigeon feed, long-stemmed roses, and selfie-sticks.
And to bring the story to its fitting conclusion, this assortment of details (plaque with the date 1 May 1867, and the shield bearing the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus) immortalizes the date on which Rome was voted the capital of the new Italy.
I see swords and guns, but don’t discern a pen in this collage. I’m sure there must have been at least one somewhere in the midst of this whole affair.
Flag of the Kingdom of Italy (1861-1946). No need for fussy crowns and mythic beasts in the center — the coat of arms of the House of Savoy does the job.
I mentioned above that I’m writing this on Republic Day, even though the king relates to it only inversely. I say that because after 85 years of kings, the Italian people went to the polls on June 2, 1946 and voted to replace him with a republic. That’s one impressive job-performance evaluation.
Furthermore, the king and his entire family were sent into exile, which demonstrates some prudence on the part of the new government, considering that 54 percent (almost all in the North) had voted for a republic but 45 per cent voted to keep the monarchy (almost all in the South). There are a few characters around Venice who still make a point of putting out the royal flag on certain occasions. It’s a vain gesture; the Italian Constitution forbids the reinstatement of a monarchy by constitutional amendment. The only way to bring back a king would be to write a completely new constitution. This is not on anybody’s to-do list.
In any case, if there were to be a new king, he couldn’t come from the House of Savoy, as the Savoyards formally renounced their claim to the (non-existent) throne in 2002 in return for being permitted to set foot in Italy again, should the mood strike.
But the statue remains, and even if nobody now recognizes who it is on the horse, it served a very important purpose in its time. Statues of Vittorio Emanuele II and his co-divinity, Giuseppe Garibaldi, began to appear in many places after Unification. The reason, as so aptly and famously put by contemporary statesman Massimo d’Azeglio, was “Now that Italy has been made, we need to make the Italians.”
You wake up one morning and you’re an Italian. What is that supposed to mean? Statues of the two major protagonists were one way of focusing public attention on the new reality and the new identity.
The analogous statue to Giuseppe Garibaldi, by Augusto Benvenuti, was inaugurated on July 24, 1887, a few months after the king’s memorial.
“To transmit the … sense of a common past and present identity … effectively, urban space became re-defined for the political realities of the late nineteenth century. Public commemorations became widespread, especially through the erection of monuments and plaques, and the re-naming of streets. Their inauguration ceremonies encouraged the collective participation in the spectacle of the ‘imagined’ nation. Personality cults which glorified national figures such as King Vittorio Emanuele II and Giuseppe Garibaldi were perceived as important tools in the nation-building process.” (Laura Parker, “Identity, memory, and la diarchia di bronzo, Commemorating Vittorio Emanuele II and Giuseppe Garibaldi in post-Risorgimento Venice.”)
I close with some trivia, which as everyone knows, I never consider trivial.
The Savoia & Jolanda hotel is just steps away from the kingly statue. I’m guessing that it was named for then-prince Vittorio Emanuele III (the grandson of the man with the sword) and his daughter Jolanda. He ruled from 1900 – 1946, and his visit to Venice in 1882 with his mother, Queen Margherita, inspired a number of memorials.
Such as the plaque above the Coop supermarket on via Garibaldi.
Which states: “Margherita Queen of Italy and Vittorio Emanuele Hereditary Prince on July 20 1882 Leaning from this balcony admired the festival ordered in their honor The new example of the ancient bond which in days that are happy or sad unites realm and people It was desired that this be remembered June 1902.”
Queen Margherita was reportedly much more popular than either her son or her husband. This statue represents her lifting a torch which is lit at night. (Take that, Statue of Liberty.) An attractive legend holds that the “pizza Margherita” was created in her honor, composed of the three colors of the national flag (tomato, basil, mozzarella). There is no “pizza Vittorio Emanuele Maria Alberto Eugenio Ferdinando Tommaso, Father of the Fatherland,” meaning no disrespect. I can’t even begin to think what it would be made of.