Archive for History

While my mind is still loitering around the Giardini Reali, soon to be refurbished, titivated, and otherwise brought back to life (the Giardini, not my mind), I thought I’d show a glimpse of how the immediate area looked before Napoleon moved in and there went the neighborhood.

The little building on the right is the charmingly domed Palazzina Selva, bordering the west side of the Giardini Reali.  The Vallaresso vaporetto stop is visible on the left.  The ecru-colored building in the center of the picture is the headquarters of the Coast Guard and Harbormaster, but it was once the Fontegheto de la Farina, or flour warehouse.

Between the early 1800’s and the 1930’s, the white stone bridge so gracefully arching over the canal didn’t exist, for the simple reason that Napoleon and those who followed wanted the Gardens (royal, remember?) to be appropriately separated from the rest of the city on that side.

In this images from the 1930’s, the canal flows in regal isolation.  But take a closer look at the building to the left, the former Fontegheto.  Notice the two large arched window/doors at the corner of the building.  The archway on the canal side is obviously blocked off, but it wasn’t always so…

Slightly further back in history, there once was a perfectly serviceable bridge, and without parapets or steps, which was more the norm than not.  It led to that now-closed archway, which then was a perfectly serviceable passageway (sotoportego) that went through the Fontegheto de la Farina.

The waterfront at San Marco used to see a lot of working boats and cargo which were not gondolas and tourists. The Fontegheto de la Farina (the building front and center, with the bridge attached) has stood here since 1492 (this painting by Canaletto is from c.1730), a smaller flour warehouse than the Fontego de la Farina at the Rialto.  Smaller merchants were allowed to sell flour in the covered passageway.  But man does not live on flour alone. On December 14, 1724, the Venetian Senate ordered that a few rooms on the second floor be given to the Academy of Painters and Sculptors.  This academy provided instruction and working space for foreign artists passing through Venice on their way to Rome, Florence, and Bologna.  It was funded by contributions from Venetian noblemen, ordinary citizens, the artists and their students.

 

Categories : Venetian History
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Apr
21

Crumbling and fading away, Part 2

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As we were wandering around the Rialto area examining Fascist mottoes, we also discovered an astonishing assortment of signs, symbols, inscriptions, and other indications of life from the past that are just sitting out there in the rain and wind deteriorating with nary a squeak from themselves, much less anybody else.

Here are some of the things we found.  (Well — “found” isn’t quite right.  They were hardly lost.  But they do seem to be in the process of becoming lost.)  I’m not saying we’re the only people who have ever noticed these, so no prizes or props to us.  But it seems clear that nobody at the Superintendency of Fine Arts or Beni Culturali or any other government agency tasked with paying attention to the city’s treasures, monuments, or general aesthetic or historical elements has given them any thought whatsoever.  I’m all for restoring paintings by Titian, but I’m also for respecting and even defending these literal voices which have been silenced because they’re not famous.

text of caption here

Trust me, there is indeed an inscription on this column of flaking stone.  I can only decipher a few letters, but can’t manage to construct any likely phrase from them.  You see?  This is what happens when you just leave everything to fend for itself.  I’m no expert on plexiglas, but it occurs to me that a protective covering of some sort, applied at the right time, would have been a good idea.  Certainly better than the Darwinian approach we see around.

The longer I stare at this, the more I feel like I"m taking some diabolical eye examination where they flip the lenses: "Better?" "Worse?"

The longer I stare at this, the more I feel like I”‘m taking some diabolical eye examination as they flip the lenses: “Better?” “Worse?” The letters have made some infernal pact with the cracks in the surface to create more weirdness than those 3-D placemats. I have distinguished a few letters but have given up trying to turn them into words.  This makes me mad.

Ah, much better, though you'll discover that understanding all the words doesn't mean that you will inevitably understand the words' significance.

Ah, much better, though you’ll discover that understanding all the words doesn’t mean that you will inevitably understand their significance.   Those crisp little triangles where punctuation isn’t needed are intriguing design touches.   “L’inchiostri tropo neri/O tropo bianchi/Fa i nomi eterni/E fa le anime vive.”  “The inks that are too black/Or too white/Make eternal names/And make living souls.” This is on the west wall of the small street named “Naranzaria” behind the church of San Giacometto at Rialto.  The wall once enclosed the Fabriche Vecie. It must be some cult thing.

Until a few years ago, the ground-floor storerooms facing Campo San Giacomo and, on the other side, the Erbaria (the open area facing the Grand Canal) were occupied by wholesale fruit and vegetable merchants. Lino remembers rowing there in his boat to buy, say,potatoes, because the price was lower than in his neighborhood..

Until a few years ago, the ground-floor storerooms facing Campo San Giacomo and, on the other side, the Erbaria (the open area facing the Grand Canal) were occupied by wholesale fruit and vegetable merchants.  Now they’ve all been turned into cunning little bars and cafes, but in Lino’s day there were still vendors here selling their produce by the crate (or whatever dimension of container).  He would row there in his boat to buy, say, large amounts of potatoes, because the price was lower than in his neighborhood.  Further back in time, the storerooms would have been be closed by heavy gates or doors; almost all these pillars bear the marks of thick iron hinges (as the holes above testify), and the vendor’s area distinguished by some symbol or emblem.

The proclamation on this column reads as follows (translation below by me):

TARIFFA DELLE VTILITA DEL PESADOR DE FRUTTI FRESCHI STABILITA DAL MAGISTRATO ECC. DEGLI INQUISATORI ALLE TARIFFE APPROVATA DAL CONS. ECC. DI 40 AL CRIMINAL 1726 26 MARZO OLTRE DE QUALI NON POSSANO NE  PRINCIPAL NE LI SOSTITUTI TVOR (prendere) NE MANDAR COSA ALCUNA SOTTO LE PENE DELLE LEGGI PER IL PESO DI CADAUN CESTO CORBA (illegible) CASSA O ALTRO COLLO DE ERVETTA HAVER DEBBA COME SEGVE SINO A LIRE 60 DI PESO SOLDI VNO — 1 SINO AL 200 SOLDI DVE — 2  PER QVALSIVOGLIA MAGGIOR SVMMA IL PESO SOLDI QVATTRO — 4  GIOBATTA LIPPAMANO INQ  FRANCESCO BATTAGGIA INQ SIMON CONTARINI INQ  NICOLO MARCH (?) SEC

THE TARIFF OF THE COMMODITIES OF THE WEIGHMASTER (I invented this word; the pesador was the official weigher) OF FRESH FRUITS ESTABLISHED BY THE MOST EXCELLENT MAGISTRACY OF THE INQUISITORS OF THE TARIFFS APPROVED BY THE MOST EXCELLENT COUNCIL OF 40 OF THE CRIMINAL (the “Quarantia,” or Council of 40, was the supreme government office concerned with financial planning and the Mint; it was divided into three sections, and the “Criminal” was responsible for capital crimes and, as needed, the death penalty) 1726 26 MARCH BEYOND WHICH NEITHER PRINCIPALS OR THEIR SUBSTITUTES MAY TAKE (“tor” or “tuor” is still the common Venetian word for “take”) OR SEND ANY SORT OF THING UNDER PAIN OF THE LAWS FOR THE WEIGHT OF EACH BASKET CORBA (a corba was a long, large basket made of wicker or woven chestnut twigs, usually with handles) CHEST OR OTHER LARGE CONTAINER OF GREEN LEAFY VEGETABLES HAVING TO PAY AS FOLLOWS UP TO 60 LIRE OF WEIGHT ONE SOLDO – UP TO 200 TWO SOLDI – FOR WHATEVER AMOUNT ABOVE THAT FOUR SOLDI GIOBATTA LIPPAMANO INQUISITOR FRANCESCO BATTAGGIA INQUISITOR SIMON CONTARINI INQUISITOR NICOLO MARCH(?) SECRETARY.

I have only translated that bit about money and weight as literally as I can, but you clearly have to be in either the selling or the weighing business to be able to interpret what they mean. Please overlook this for now.

“Erbette,” literally “herbs,” refers to planty foods such as spinach, chicory, chard, etc.  The indefatigable Tassini notes, in “Curiosita’ Veneziane,” that the Erbaria at Rialto was the place where such plants and fruits from the nearby islands and mainland were sold.  I translate: “It existed in the 1300s, and in 1398 was paved with stone, while before it had been paved with wood.  The business (“art”) of the vegetable-sellers was a ‘column’ of the Fruit-sellers guild, and in 1773 had 122 shops, 11 closed places (I am guessing those were the gated and locked storerooms), and 89 “sendings.”  (Consignments?).  He continues, “In 1581 this ‘art’ was allowed to have its altar in the church of SS. Filippo and Giacomo (church torn down by Napoleon) which had belonged first to the Bargemen, and also served for the use of the Linen-workers.”

The symbol of a specific vendor.

The symbol of a specific vendor, as are the following.

SAM_6124.JPG rialto inscriptions

SAM_6126.JPG rialto inscriptions

SAM_6129.JPG rialto inscriptions

No symbols or inscriptions here, just bits of what must have been industrial-strength gates.

 

Categories : History
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Apr
20

Crumbling and fading away, Part 1

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Shapeless -- only sort of. But hardly meaningless.

Somewhat shapeless. But hardly meaningless.

IMG_1293.JPG fascist symbol detail

You get so accustomed to the buildings here being in various stages of decrepitude that you become rather lax in looking at them.  You see, but you do not observe.  The particular example that comes to mind concerns a seemingly amorphous glob of concrete or stone or something hard above the door of the building just across the street from us.  I say “seemingly amorphous,” because Lino suddenly recognized its morph the other day.

“Oh look,” he said.  “That was a house where a gerarch lived.”  Unlike the usual formula, this was not a reference to someone from his past.  But it was certainly from the past.  Specifically, from the year beginning October 29, 1926 and ending October 28, 1927, otherwise known as “Anno V,” or Year 5, of the Fascist era.

One of many representations of the fasces and axe. The rods bound together represent strength in unity (easy to break separately, impossible to break when together), and the axe represents the power of life and death which the magistrate, preceded by a "lictor" bearing the fasces, held over the Roman citizens. This, after all, is an item which dates from TKTK and was adopted as part of the Fascist Party's desire to emulate the power and glory of Rome.

One of many representations of the fasces and axe. The birch rods bound together represent strength in unity (easy to break separately, impossible to break when together), and the axe represents the power of capital punishment which the Roman magistrate, preceded by a “lictor” bearing the fasces, held over the Roman citizens. The fasces and lictors date from the first kings of Rome (beginning in 753 BC) and may have been adopted from an Etruscan custom.  In this and many other aspects the Fascist Party showed its desire to recover the power and glory of ancient Rome.

The clump of material, now that I look closer, retains the outlines of the fasces with the axe-blade which was the primary symbol of the National Fascist Party.

As for the gerarchs, there were 12 ranks ranging from the Secretary of the party to a humble “capo nucleo,” or head of a unit.  I haven’t pursued the subject any further than this, though I’m guessing that it was not the Secretary of the party who lived out here on the fringe of civilization.

Over time, I’ve noticed (with Lino’s help, usually) a few other traces of the period between 1921 and 1943.  Pictures follow with what bits of elucidation I can provide.

The faxces and axe as carved on the tomb of Marcus Calpurnius Rufus in Ephesus.

The fasces and axe as carved on the tomb of Marcus Calpurnius Rufus in Ephesus.  He was the son of an important imperial priest during the reign of the emperor Tiberius and a high-ranking senator under the emperor Claudius.

 

The gymnasium of a former school in Dorsoduro; the central door is surmounted by an eagle that doesn't seem to consider itself just any ordinary eagle.

The gymnasium of a former school in Dorsoduro; the central door is surmounted by an eagle that seems to consider itself not just any ordinary eagle.  The eagle was one of the most potent symbols of Rome, hence its importance to Mussolini.

Someone saw fit to remove the fasces which were once clutched in its talons. Lino regrets that. Making no political statements, he says simply that "That's part of our history too."

Someone saw fit to remove the fasces which were once clutched in its talons. Lino regrets that. Making no political statements, he says simply that “That’s part of our history too.”

It would have looked something like this.

It would have looked something like this.

The covered walkway bordering the open space at Rialto called the "Naranzaria" is a trove of stenciled Fascist graffiti. One of the more legible ones reads "W Roma Intangibile" (Evviva, or long live, intangible Rome). This phrase was first used by TK, the first King of Italy in Date TK, and for a long time carried a strong populist significance. The important thing to grasp here are the repeated references to Rome, the Fascist Party's lodestone, pole star, and general fixation.

The covered walkways of the “Fabbriche Vecchie” and “Fabbriche Nuove” at Rialto bordering Campo San Giacomo de Rialto (the open space facing the Grand Canal) is a trove of stenciled and fading Fascist graffiti. One of the more legible ones reads “W Roma Intangibile” (Evviva, or long live, intangible Rome). This phrase was first used by the King of Italy, Umberto I, on Sept. 20, 1886 (more about this after the photographs).  The important thing to grasp here are the repeated references to Rome, the Fascist Party’s lodestone, pole star, and general fixation.  Benito Mussolini saw himself as the founder of a “New Rome.”

I can make out the "W Roma" but am only guessing at "Intangibile" beneath it.

I can make out the “W Roma” but am only guessing at “Intangibile” beneath it.

At the top I can make out the by-now usual "Roma Intangibile," but beneath the white oval there is "Roma ... resteremo"

At the top I can make out the by-now usual “Roma Intangibile,” and beneath the white oval there is “A Roma ci siamo e ci resteremo” (We are in Rome and there we will remain).

Clinging desperately to the plaster is the unconquerable "W Roma Intangibile."

Clinging desperately to the plaster is the unconquerable “W Roma Intangibile.”

I have stared my eyes out on this one and cannot deny or explain that it says "W Nicola Contarini."

I have stared my eyes out on this one and cannot deny or explain that it says “W Nicolo Contarini.” (Long live Nicolo Contarini.)

Nicolo Contarini was the doge of Venice during the hideous plague of 1630. But I don't think that has anything to do with this graffito. According to Wikipedia (translated by me), he was "universally considered a man who was upright and just...distinguished for his capacity to manage the public administration with extreme ability and honesty..During the clashes under his predecessory, even though disapproving the doge (Corner), he .never showed himself to be an extremist, and this made him win the affection even of his adversaries."

Nicolo Contarini was the doge of Venice during the hideous plague of 1630. But I don’t think that has anything to do with this graffito. According to Wikipedia (translated by me), he was “universally considered a man who was upright and just…distinguished for his capacity to manage the public administration with extreme ability and honesty. During the clashes under his predecessor, even though disapproving the doge (Corner), he never showed himself to be an extremist, and this made him win the affection even of his adversaries.”  If for some reason I’ve read this fading inscription incorrectly, I’m still glad to have had an excuse to discover a man who deserves to be remembered.

Here is what I have managed to learn about “Roma intangibile.”  The expression seems to have resulted from a mashup of events and remarks.  We begin with the “Capture of Rome” (“Breccia di Porta Pia“), on September 20, 1870.  It was the final event of the Risorgimento; the Papal States were defeated, and the way was open to the unification of Italy under its first king, Vittorio Emmanuele II.

In 1875, Umberto I (King of Italy from 1878-1900) referred to Rome as the “unbreakable seal of Italian unity.”  In 1886, he used the term “Rome, an intangible conquest.”  (This deserves much explanation and exegesis, which is beyond me.  Just stay with me here.)  It is at that point that the principle of “Intangible Rome” entered history.

The phrase caught on; in fact, it became so popular that in 1895 a certain Carlo Bartezaghi, an enterprising industrialist from Milan, created a bronze medal showing the she-wolf (symbol of Rome) and the motto “Roma Intangibile.” He led people to believe that it was an ancient object and managed to fool a number of numismatic experts for a while, but that’s beside our point.  The term became part of the popular lexicon.

In 1900, Vittorio Emmanuele III, in his first proclamation to the Italian people, recalled “…the unity of the Fatherland that is epitomized in the name of Roma intangibile, symbol of greatness and pledge of integrity for Italy.”

Fading monuments have such a melancholy aspect, not so much because they’re fading but because they used to matter, sometimes a lot, and now they’re fading.

I'm fresh out of pictures of Rome, tangible or otherwise, so I'll have to stay in intangible Venice.

I’m fresh out of pictures of Rome, tangible or otherwise, so I’ll have to stay in intangible Venice.

 

 

 

 

Categories : History
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Jan
23

Clocking in

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The church of San Geremia, with its splendid tower and even more splendid invisible clock, seen looking up the Cannaregio Canal. (Canaletto, Wikiart.)

The church of San Geremia, with its splendid tower and even more splendid invisible clock, seen looking up the Cannaregio Canal. (Canaletto, Wikiart.)

Before wristwatches, there were bells, usually in towers.  But for the bells to be useful, somebody had to know what time it was, so a clock needed to be lurking somewhere — preferably attached to the bells.  Of course, clocks didn’t have to have bells.  But bells were irrelevant without a clock.

So if ingenuity appeals to you, I suggest you go to the church of S. Geremia, near the train station, to observe one of the oldest clocks in Europe; it is the still-functioning mechanism that kept their two bells ringing — with a 70-year interlude — ever since the 1500’s.  (No, there doesn’t seem to be a definite date to the clock’s arrival; I have turned the booklet’s information inside and out, and now it’s my brain that feels like a piece of origami.  So “1500’s” will have to do for now.)

(For those whose minds can never be at rest, let me add that the first public clock in Italy was installed in the tower of the church of Sant’ Eustorgio in Milan between 1297 and 1306.) (I will not be reporting anything about Sant’ Eustorgio.)

Here is the creature, alive again. The pendulum is visible as a blur toward the right (can't stop working). Sorry the picture doesn't convey the TICK TOCK which some writers poetically compare to the beat of the human heart, which of course is just another machine.

Here is the creature, alive again. The pendulum is visible as a dark disk in front of the wound-up cord on the right. Sorry the picture doesn’t convey the TICK TOCK which some writers poetically compare to the beat of the human heart, which of course is just another machine.

The tower of S. Geremia has a clock, but no clock-face.  In fact,  only a few churches in Venice whose bells still alert us to the time also display a visible clock.  Clock-faces became common in the 1500’s, the result of I don’t know what impulse, because when you think about it, the striking bells told you everything you needed to know without a visual aid.  The belltower of the church of the Carmini, whose bells told me the time for the ten years I lived nearby, has no clock face.  I never thought about that till this moment.  Just hearing the hour and quarter-hour struck was enough to keep me oriented over the course of the day (and night). But because somebody had to know exactly what time it was, there was a sundial, still visible, on the tower of S. Geremia, which enabled this person to calibrate the works, by hand, exactly at noon.  I’ll explain the importance of that in a minute (sorry).

This mechanism is probably one of the simplest, but it still impresses the hoo out of me.  Not being literate in the language of wheels — cog, fly, escape, Catherine — I’m not convinced that it was made by an engineer and not by an alchemist or general all-purpose thaumaturge.  The important point is that it was maintained in working order till 1950.  At that point it went into retirement, until a restoration project brought it back to life in 2015.

From a few steps away, the clock mechanism doesn't look so very complicated. Up close, you begin to appreciate the precision involved in making every single component.

From a few steps away, the clock mechanism doesn’t look so very complicated. Up close, you begin to appreciate the precision involved in making every single component.

Here is the brief biography, helpfully placed by the clock. The 31-page booklet by Francesco Zane is left out on a table, but the text is only in Italian.

Here is the brief biography, helpfully placed behind the clock. A 32-page booklet by Francesco Zane, which explains literally everything, is left out on a table, but the text is only in Italian.  Pay attention to VIETATO TOCCARE — it is forbidden to touch.  Why would anyone want to touch it?  To see if it’s really working?  It must be the same urge that impels people to climb into bear enclosures.

And while we're speaking of signs, a shout-out to the restoration project: "

And while we’re speaking of signs, a shout-out to the restoration project: “For the generous munificence of the F.I.G.C. (Italian Soccer Federation) and the Venice chapter of the Italian Association of Referees the centuries-old clock of the tower of S. Geremia now lives again after a long silence marking the ringing of good seasons.”  Perhaps it sounds better in Italian than English, but it’s all true.

Venice was a city of towers and there were many more than there are today.  In 1601, a certain Franz Schott, writing a guidebook entitled “Itinerario d’Italia,” stated that Venice contained 27 public clocks, and “towers for church bells 114.”  Today, there are 84.  We can thank Napoleon for this devastation.

Schott, being German, made those useful distinctions because they weren’t all clock-towers — some were watchtowers, or signal towers, or showing-off towers built by especially rich people.

Venice in its towery days looked pretty much like this. Compliments to Michelle Lovric and her book, “Talina in the Tower.” (Orion Children’s Books, 2012)

The need for clocks (have you never reflected on why there was a need for clocks?) seems to have begun in the Benedictine monasteries, to ensure the correct timing of the Liturgy of the Hours throughout the day — and night. But there was also a need for order in arranging the day’s activities out in the profane world, so people got used to organizing themselves according to the bells rung for religious purposes.

Here is how a typical medieval day in Venice rolled along, at least until the 1500’s, from the comprehensive booklet written by Francesco Zane (translated by me):

“Until the 1600’s the devout custom continued of following the divine offices during the night, and the doge never missed attending in his chapel, just as the Greek emperors (I presume he means Byzantine emperors) and the French and Longobard kings.  (The “divine offices during the night” would have occurred at midnight and 3:00 AM.  No wonder he dozed off in meetings.)

“As the sun rose behind the campanile of San Marco, at the sound of a bell each person got busy working, and seeing that the most numerous artisans were the carpenters, in Venice called marangoni, they named that bell the Marangona.  The magistrates seated and the workshops already buzzing, not a few patricians … gathered at Rialto beneath the porticoes, which are to the right as you descend the bridge, for the sole purpose of seeing each other and talking together, while at the same hour and in the remaining porticoes (was) a crowd of merchants — Florentine, Genoese, Lombards, Spanish, Saracens, and of whatever nation of the world was involved in major business.  They stayed there till noon, when it was time for lunch.

“…lunchtime was brief, only half an hour after noon had struck, when another bell …  struck for a half hour calling everyone back to work, so that the entire time allowed for the pause was only one hour. When night fell, work and public business necessarily ended, but it wasn’t unusual whenever and where it was requested or needed that the magistrates would continue to work on state business.

If you’ve ever noticed the bell ringing every day at 2:00 PM from the campanile of San Marco, that was the signal ending the lunch break for the Arsenal workers.

“Finally, at the third hour of the night (Compline, or 9:00 PM), another bell was rung … after which you could no longer walk around the city … nor could you keep fires burning in shops and houses on pain of a fine of 100 soldi, by which provision the habitations, which were, for the main part, of wood, were preserved from fire.  But in the 1400’s it was permitted for barbers and small food shops to remain open after “terza della notte” (6:00 PM).

All these are times that correspond to the canonical hours, which persisted till the 1700’s.  Slightly confusing, because the day was considered to begin at sunset.  “Prime” was 6:00 AM, “Terza” was 9:00 AM, “Sesta” was 12:00 PM, and “Nona” was 3:00 PM.  Documents often refer to meetings and other events as occuring before or at or after a certain named bell.  Everybody knew what “Nona” meant, just as I’ve gotten used to knowing what “Candelora” and “l’Immacolata” mean in terms of dates.

Another view of the belltower of S. Geremia by Canaletto, this time looking across the Cannaregio Canal. The church is the small building in the center distance;

It fell to the bells to keep a city of 100,000 people functioning efficiently; the Venetian government needed to ensure that everybody knew what time it was, and S. Geremia was one of four churches which officially sounded the time for any governmental meeting, especially the Great Council. (The other official churches were the Frari, San Francesco della Vigna, and, of course, San Marco, all the highest towers in Venice and all necessarily synchronized, which is where the sundials came in.)  Seeing that the Council numbered some 2,000 members who lived all over the city, these four strategically placed belltowers totally removed any chance for someone to arrive late saying he hadn’t heard the summons. Being sure of a standard citywide time enabled the office timekeeper to define what “showing up late” meant, which made it easy to impose the appropriate fine.

Out in the parishes, when the bells rang for Prime (dawn) every morning, the appointed persons would open the thousands of public wells, which had been covered at night.  (Reports of the occasional suicide make it clear why this was desirable.)  This practice was maintained, perhaps toward the end without the bells, until the acqueduct from the mainland was built in 1884.

Also at Prime, every day from 1516 to 1797, the bells from S. Geremia signaled the guards to open the gates to the Ghetto.  At the bell of 6:00 PM the gates were closed and bolted, and the night patrol began its circuit — in boats, naturally — of the walls of the Ghetto.

Who paid for this clock?  S. Geremia didn’t have a monastery to justify or fund it; its use was entirely secular, and the parishioners paid for it.  San Geremia was one of the largest parishes in Venice, and by the late 1200’s had developed both economically and socially well beyond its poor, marshy beginnings. There were many businesses which depended on knowing what time it was — for example, the foundries.

The city’s oldest foundries were in the parish of S. Geremia, in the area which later was assigned to the Ghetto.  The period between the 13th and 14th centuries saw rapid innovations throughout Europe, and one writer says that it was no coincidence that the first artillery and clocks began to appear at the same time.  Among other things, the Venetian foundries cast bombards, or early cannon, as well as creating the alloys used for other assorted weapons. Foundry workers were required to live in the parish.  I give this as a fact, though I can’t provide the reason, except for the fact that virtually everyone resided near their place of work.

To return to the clock: There are signs that it was cast by the “Dondi” foundry.  Several generations of Dondis distinguished themselves in the realm of timepieces.  Clock people (of whom I am not one; I’m just passing through) venerate the name of Giovanni Dondi Dall’ Orologio (“of the clock”), who in 1364 completed work on his Astrarium, a complex astronomical clock which one source calls “one of the most important machines of all time.”

To sum up: Artisans and engineers at the pinnacle of their skill collaborated to make this sturdy, unstoppable instrument.  I have no doubt that they looked upon it and saw that it was good, though they might not have imagined it would keep going for 500 years.  That’s a heck of a lot of TOCKs.

The belltower of the church of the SS. Apostoli (Holy Apostles) still looks like this today, long after this portrait by Canaletto, with bells and clock-face and everything. Tassini, who is never to be doubted in any way, records the Harold-Lloyd adventure of the church’s aged priest, Domenico Longo, who in 1672 was up in the belltower, slipped, and fell out, being saved from instant death by his clothes becoming snagged on the “spheres” of the clock. He hung there till help arrived (method of help not specified, nor the number of onlookers who must have crowded around the scene almost instantly.)

Saved by the spheres! Or points, or whatever. (Photo: Didier Descouens, detail).

Saved by the spheres! Or points, or whatever. Notice the numeral “1” written as “J,” which I have only seen on the island of Burano. Sharp-eyed reader Robert Fusillo has informed me that it is the Roman numeral for “1” and I have subsequently discovered that “j” is a “swash variant” of a “lower-case Roman numeral” for 1.  I’d never heard of a lower-case numeral, but life just keeps pushing information into my brain.  (Photo: Didier Descouens, detail).

The church of San Francesco di Paola in via Garibaldi also sports a clock -- or did, until some time during WW 2 it stopped working.  Rather than repair it, the parishioners removed it and left its shadow behind.  Too bad -- a clock that worked would be extremely useful there.

The church of San Francesco di Paola in via Garibaldi also sports a clock — or did, until some time during WW 2 it stopped working. Rather than repair it, the parishioners removed it and left its shadow behind. Too bad — a clock that worked would be extremely useful there.

And as we see, here too the renowned "1" in the shape of a "J" appears.

And as we see, here too the renowned “1” in the shape of a “J” appears.  If the image seems slightly out of focus, it’s thanks to the fog this morning.

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Categories : Venetian-ness
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