Archive for Carlo de Ghega

May
02

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.

Here is the nizioleto located five steps away from the plaque to Carlo de Ghega. The writers and carvers thereof were guilty of incising the name in that misbegotten half-Venetian, half-Italian which was one of several causes of the Great Nizioleti Uprising of 2013.

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.

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.

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.

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."

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 façade of what is now the Institute of Santa Maria Ausiliatrice on the Fondamenta San Gioachin obviously has more pressing concerns than whether anybody looks up at a plaque.  But one day I just stopped and determined to investigate.

The façade of what is now the Institute of Santa Maria Ausiliatrice on the Fondamenta San Gioachin obviously has more pressing concerns than whether anybody looks up at a plaque. (You do see a plaque, don’t you?).  But one day I just stopped and determined to investigate.

Now that I have pulverized every last fermion of the subject of death in Venice (book, author, phenomenon, movie, original language, salt-free-recipe-for), I’d like to amaze everyone’s questing minds by talking about being born in Venice.

It happens a lot, though not as often as one might wish.  But if you really focus as you migrate from gelateria to gelateria, you may notice a number of plaques incised in Italian which include the word “nato” or “nascita” or, if they’re being grammatically fancy, even “nacque.” This means “born.”

Carlo de Ghegha, 1851, while still working on the railroad.  He looks satisfied with the way things are going in this lithograph by Joseph Kriehuber.

Carlo de Ghega, 1851, while still working on the railroad. He looks satisfied with the way things are going, at least as shown by Joseph Kriehuber in this lithograph.

Famous people came to Venice to be born?  Wonderful!

Even more wonderful is how many famous people there are whom I’ve never heard of (thereby perplexing the meaning of “famous”). But I have just discovered someone whose birthplace I pass numerous times a day, and who, once I stopped and paid attention, I acknowledge as deserving not only his fading testimonial, but probably much more. A park, a lake, a bullet train bearing his name would not be too much. Elsewhere he may well receive more recognition than here; in Venice, honor has always been distributed in very small and carefully eye-droppered quantities. He should be glad he got a plaque.

His name is Carlo de Ghega (or Karl Ritter von Ghega), and after being born in Castello, he went on to do some prodigious things that merit at least a slice of marble nobody notices.

Now that I know who he is and what he did, I am going to tell you, because not all of us have had the benefit of an Austrian elementary-school education. An Austrian friend of mine was very unimpressed that I’d discovered somebody she’d learned about when she was a mere child. But then again, she may not know as much as I do about Stephanie Louise Kwolek, so there we are.

Did I say born in Venice, and he’s Austrian?  (Actually, his parents were Albanian.  That’s the beauty of an empire, in this case the Austro-Hungarian version.  Lots of everybody everywhere.)  Read on.

First, here is the runic summary of his life, as carved in stone:

1854  Semmering  1954   On this fondamenta of  San Gioacchino moved to life Carlo de Ghega Engineer whose tenacious genius turned first to the waters and  to the streets of his neighborhood and then to the Norica Alps to be the first to open them amid harsh adversities to the reign of steam. Born 1802  Died 1860

1854 Semmering 1954
On this fondamenta of
San Gioachino
moved to life (was  born)
Carlo de Ghega
Engineer
whose tenacious genius turned
first to the waters and
to the streets
of his neighborhood
and then to the Noric Alps
to open them first
amid harsh adversities
to the reign of steam.
Born 1802 Died 1860

Before I go further, you might want to know that the Noric Alps are a mountain chain between Italy and Austria encompassing the Tyrol, Salzburg and Carinthia.

And in this stretch of peaks and valleys Mr./Signor/Herr/Zoti De Ghega built a railroad known as the Semmering railway, named for the mountain pass it overcame.  It is considered the first true mountain railway ever built, and was a feat so phenomenal that it is now on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Not everybody believed it could be done.  The gradients were too steep (25 percent), the curves were too tight (180 meters/590 feet).  It was too complicated, too difficult, impossible, actually, and also useless.  In the face of such doubting and carping, it was obvious that he was going to do it.  Also, I believe the Austrian emperor had specifically asked him to.

The pass isn’t so high (965 meters/3,166 feet above sea level), but connecting the villages of Gloggnitz and Murzzuschlag appears to have resembled a monumental cat’s-cradle.  From 1848 to 1854, 20,000 workers blasted 14 tunnels and built 16 viaducts, 11 small iron bridges, and more than 100 curved stone bridges.  All this over a distance of a mere 41 km (25 miles).

“Curved” is the important concept here — there isn’t a straight line anywhere.  The curves were so insidious that new instruments and new methods of surveying had to be developed to deal with them.  Further — stay with me, this is important — a new locomotive had to be created (the Engerth locomotive finally won out), and which did not rely on anything so simple as a cog-wheel system to drag it uphill.

De Ghega is a celebrity in the world of railway engineering and design, not to mention trains.  But what else could one expect of a man who graduated from the University of Padua with a degree in mathematics at the age of 17?  Here’s the answer: Being asked (told) to design the entire state railway system of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

I’m not saying he was a genius because he was born in Castello; you’ve got to be born somewhere.  But it probably didn’t hurt him, either. In one way or another, great people keep showing up here.

I think the squiggles are enough, without showing variations in elevation, to illustrate what he accomplished.

I think the squiggles are enough, without showing variations in elevation, to illustrate what he accomplished.

The viaduct over the Kalte Rinne in Styria, photographed between 1890 and 1900. (Library of Congress).

The viaduct over the Kalte Rinne in Styria, photographed between 1890 and 1900. (Library of Congress).

Another view of the Kalte Rinne viaduct (Emerich Benkert, color lithograph, 1854).

Another view of the Kalte Rinne viaduct (Emerich Benkert, color lithograph, 1854).

You can still take the train.  I want to do it.  (Phoot: Herbert Ortner, Wikipedia).

The train is still running. I want to ride it one time in my life.  Maybe two times. (Photo: Herbert Ortner, Wikipedia).

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