Archive for Napoleon

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
14

Regrowing a garden

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Let’s start at the beginning. This is how the area between the campanile of San Marco and the canal to the west looked in 1500. We can see this due to Jacopo dei’ Barbari’s evident out-of-body experience, for which we are extremely grateful.  Notice that there are buildings where the garden will be 300 years later, when Napoleon comes to improve things.

Aerial views of Venice reveal an unsuspected abundance of gardens and parks, which aren’t always apparent to the wanderer of the brick- and stone-walled streets.  But one garden cum park is so obvious that I wonder how many people are even aware of it.  Those who are, though, have long been disappointed, and like so many things that ought to be done but somehow aren’t, the Giardini Reali stretching between the Piazza San Marco and the lagoon have spent years in quiet, despairing decline.

Once or twice a year, an article would appear in the Gazzettino urging the campers and backpackers and picnickers who bivouac in the Piazza to avail themselves of the green space — with benches, even! — where they could munch and relax.  But either the message didn’t get across, or many people looked through the rusty gate at the dusty, gravelly area which once was a garden and now had more of the atmosphere of an abandoned parking lot in Buffalo and had second thoughts.  Dust in the summer you can sort of put up with, but a mid-day garden which affords NO SHADE is very hard to make appealing.

In any case, tell the truth: Did you have any idea there was a garden there?

This is the area as it was seen at some unspecified date, but some time in the early 20th century. It’s a fairly large stretch of land to be used just for a batch of trees, but Napoleon did the same thing at the Giardini Pubblici.

(Photo by Cynthia Prefontaine for Venice Gardens Foundation.)

But I’m here with good news: The garden is coming back, with flowers and a fountain and SHADE.  At least those are the glad tidings announced at a press conference last Friday by the Venice Gardens Foundation (which is new — you haven’t somehow missed it, but its website will compel you to brush up on your Italian), an ambitious undertaking launched with lavish funding from the Generali Insurance Company.

The “Royal Gardens” (your first hint that they do not date from the days of the non-royal doges) were created by the wish of Napoleon in 1806 according to a design by Giovanni Antonio Antolini.  When he wasn’t razing and demolishing swathes of Venice, Napoleon was transforming them. No sooner had he turned the Procuratie Nuove into the Royal Palace than he commissioned an adjoining garden, because as we all know, a palace must have a garden. Just look at Versailles.  Napoleon may have been all about egalite’, but only up to a point.

The original design for the garden by Giovanni Antonio Antolini, spread out so geometrically between the Procuratie Nuove — sorry, Royal Palace — and the bacino of San Marco.  The march of time and neglect have reduced this glistening perfection to a mishmash of feral botanical survivors.

So a garden was decreed and so it was, and so it continued under the Austrian occupiers and on into the epoch of the Republic of Italy, when I suppose the nervous sensation that no ghe xe schei to maintain it began to be felt.

Now we’re here and the garden will bloom again, in the form of a return to the classic design (with a few modifications) by Paolo Pejrone, one of the most celebrated landscape architects in Italy, if not the world. Meanwhile, architect Alberto Tosello will restore and re-pristinate, as the fabulous Italian verb comes out, the suffering buildings of the Padiglione Santi (another architect, not a batch of saints) — a small classic temple often identified as Palazzina Selva — the hothouse, and the sadly decrepit pergola.  And the disconsolate rusty gates.  Not to mention the long since seized-up old metal drawbridge.

Here is how Paolo Pejrone describes how his work will look (translated by me): “…one can imagine a garden of abundance and coolness, rich and luxurious…On the whole it won’t be a flower garden, except for the wisteria and trumpet vines, the agapanthus, some clerodendrum and hydrangeas; all suffused with a light spirit, with colorful and sometimes perfumed intervals in an elaborate and yet simple garden of leaves… It will be a triumph of leafy green, a play of transparency and shadows: every kind of leaf, thin and ribbon-like, supple and broad, glossy, leathery, or fluffy and opaque.  The Gardens will proudly overbrim in every moment of the year…”  It sounds divine, especially the part about the SHADOWS.  It practically sounds like a stretch of the Amazon lowlands.

All this should be ready for the pleasure of everybody in the second half of 2018.  Perhaps just in time for the first snowfall, but no matter.  It will be beautiful again, that’s the point.  And if tourists keep deciding anyway to fire up their camp stoves to cook lunch in the Piazza San Marco (not made up), or sprawl across the steps near the Caffe Florian to gnaw their sandwiches instead of reposing briefly in what should be a delectable little nook of leafy green, it certainly won’t be anybody’s fault but their own.

If you’ve ever run the gauntlet between the Molo and the vaporetto stop at “Vallaresso,” you will recognize this battlement of kiosks. But yes, there is a garden-like space open just behind them.

Even if the gate is open, I can’t say I’ve ever felt an urge to go in. Perhaps it’s because I feared that it might lead to Miss Havisham’s ruined mansion.

Needs no comment from me, except to say that one might be forgiven for passing up the chance to go in.

If gravel is your game, you’ve come to the right place. But tell me if you can find a bench sheltered by anything but the sky.

However, one could make a case for more benches.

I realize that most of the public attention and concern for Venice is dedicated to churches and palaces and paintings, but a space that is part of a World Heritage Site had become a landscaped cry for help.

The pergola, which ought to be draped with wisteria and not tarpaulins and “CLOSED” “DANGER” “ENTRANCE FORBIDDEN” signs. This is what “We have no money” looks like.

On the left of the canal is the frozen-in-time-and-rust iron drawbridge, which served to connect the Royal Palace to the gardens for the convenience and delectation of the royals. It will be put back into working order, and anyone in what is now part of the Correr Museum will be able to wander over to the garden without having to go all the way around the Piazza.  At least that’s the plan.

Sigh.

But landscape architect Paolo Pejrone has come to save the day, here explaining to the press how the garden will be laid out. When it’s all finished, I think they should install a statue of him, perhaps in this pose.

This is the new design, somewhat related to the old, with all the plants and trees indicated by myriad colors to which I do not have the key. But if anyone wants to know where the hydrangeas are going to be, I’ll try to find out.  Even if you don’t care about hydrangeas, there will be grace and loveliness. And shade.

 

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Jul
29

My last word on viale Garibaldi

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IMG_5327  viale garibaldi

We left our story — “The Interminable Quest for the True Provenance of the Viale Garibaldi, as Recounted by People Living and Dead (I suppose that should be “living or dead”), with Illustrations and Funny Spelling” — at an uncomfortable point between things I knew and things I only thought I knew.

Several readers have since written me giving me more information and opinions than I’d expected (that’s not saying much, considering that I expected none).  My ensuing labors to sift, evaluate, cross-check, confirm, and make at least one educated guess have led me to the last thing I’m going to say about viale Garibaldi.  Not that there couldn’t be more, and there probably is more, but my interest is dimming and I’d bet yours is too.

The story so far:

A view of the church of San Giuseppe di Castello, by Antonio Canaletto.  The church in the foreground was torn down, houses built in its place, the canal in the foreground filled in to create viale Garibaldi, and limetrees planted along its borders.  In other words, this view is painted from the perspective of a person standing on what was to become the viale Garibaldi.  (www.canalettogallery.org)

A view of the church of San Giuseppe di Castello, by Antonio Canaletto. The church in the foreground was torn down , houses built in its place, and a row of trees was planted in front of the houses.

Canaletto painted a picture showing a section of Castello as it no longer appears.  I deduced from the painting that the vantage point from which he painted it was a canal which was later filled in to make the present gravel walkway lined by lime trees named the viale Garibaldi.

Please note that much confusion can be avoided by remembering that via Garibaldi and viale Garibaldi are not the same thing.  “Viale” is a word which, among various translations, means “tree-lined avenue.”

A reader questioned my original assertion and its various geographical and geometrical elements, and proposed that the  water seen in the painting was instead a glimpse of the Bacino of San Marco, where its rippling wavelets caressed the smooth stone surface of a working riva (fondamenta).  He proposed it in less overwrought terms.

I found a map by Joan Blaue (date unknown by me, except that it was made in the 1600’s) which shows that there was indeed a riva in that place, leading down into the waters of the Bacino of San Marco, and not at all the canal I had imagined.

In brief, I was wrong and he was right.

A cropped section of the view shows the location as it was just before Canaletto's day.  Although the proportions seem to be a little hinky, there is no denying that the churches painted by Canaletto were facing the Bacino of San Marco.  The thrill of new knowledge is only slightly muted by the effort to see the city as they saw it.

A cropped section of the view shows the location as it was just before Canaletto’s day. Although the proportions seem to be a little hinky, there is no denying that the churches painted by Canaletto were facing the Bacino of San Marco. He doesn’t show as clearly as Ughi does (below) the street that became the viale, but I see that it’s there.

Another reader then wrote with more information and opinions, and attached a detail from another map, which I am showing here.  It was made by Ludovico Ughi in 1729 — slightly after Canaletto’s time, but probably not long enough to matter to our story.

As you see, Ughi identifies a clearly non-canal strip of territory as “Cale di S. Domenico di Castello.”  If it was a calle (street) in 1729, I’m going to assume it was a calle in 16-whatever-it-was when Canaletto painted his picture.

Or maybe you can’t see it.  It’s the broad line that begins in the “crook” of the waterfront and goes north till it hits the “rio di Castello,” the canal which became via Garibaldi.

Detail of the area in question from Ludovico Ughi's map of 1729.  The "Cale di S. Domenico di Castello" is located exactly where viale Garibaldi is today.

Detail of the area in question from Ludovico Ughi’s map of 1729. The “Cale di S. Domenico di Castello” is located exactly where viale Garibaldi is today.

Conclusion: Making assumptions can be dangerous, as my original post demonstrated, but I think the evidence is now reasonably clear that the present viale Garibaldi was not a canal in the 17th century.

That’s really all I’m interested in saying about this.  Whatever it was, or wasn’t, or dreamed of being, but couldn’t, or might have been if Napoleon or Nikola Tesla or Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler hadn’t intervened, is a story I’m not going to be pursuing anymore.

I’m all for knowledge — the more, the better, even as it gets broken and reassembled in ever-tinier pieces and shapes.  But unless somebody can convince me that Jimmy Hoffa is buried under the third bench on the right, I’m going to leave this subject and go on to something else.  Perhaps something more interesting, maybe even more important. But at least it won’t be about the viale Garibaldi.

Categories : Venetian History
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Jul
16

Cutting up

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In case you might wonder why the Austrians filled in this canal, I was told by a knowledgeable source that when they had their stables in what is now the Giardini, they created this modest stretch of street in order to be able to promenade on horseback, in a miniature version of the promenades in the Bois de Boulogne (or whatever Austrian park corresponds to it).  Which is why the bridge at the end of the street is a simple arch, without steps.

In case you might wonder why the Austrians filled in this canal, I was told by a knowledgeable source that they built stables in what is now the Giardini, and created this modest stretch of street in order to be able to promenade on horseback, performing a miniature version of the promenades in the Bois de Boulogne or the Vienna Prater. Which is why the bridge at the end of the street is a simple arch, without steps.

The horse- (and stroller- and shopping-cart- and skateboard-) - friendly bridge.

The horse- (and stroller- and shopping-cart- and skateboard-) friendly bridge.

 

A few days ago a powerful storm passed through, strewing rain and wind everywhere (though it stopped short of throwing hail, I’m glad to say, nor did any tiles go frisbeeing off roofs — my own ballpark-way of measuring the ratio between windspeed and danger).

But I forgot about trees.  We discovered the following morning that these can also be useful, potentially life-threatening, indicators of wind.

The viale Garibaldi (not to be confused with via Garibaldi) is the shady length of filled-in canal which stretches 785 feet (239 m) from the aforementioned street to the Giardini vaporetto stop.  During the summer its enclosing rows of lime trees provide the most heavenly shade, and there is always some breeze.  The benches, especially during the heat of the day, are almost always occupied by people who are either eating or sleeping, which leads Lino to refer to this space as either the refectory or the dormitory.

A view of the church of San Giuseppe di Castello, by Antonio Canaletto.  The church in the foreground was torn down, houses built in its place, the canal in the foreground filled in to create viale Garibaldi, and limetrees planted along its borders.  In other words, this view is painted from the perspective of a person standing on what was to become the viale Garibaldi.  (www.canalettogallery.org)

A view of the church of San Giuseppe di Castello (in background), by Antonio Canaletto. The church in the foreground was torn down as part of Napoleon’s Let’s-Make-Venice-More-Beautiful campaign, houses built in its place, the canal in the foreground filled in, and limetrees planted along its borders. In other words, this view is painted from the perspective of a person standing on what was to become the viale Garibaldi. (www.canalettogallery.org)

We weren’t surprised to discover that a tree had been blown down, but I was surprised to see what damage it had wrought.  Lime trees bless us briefly with the most heavenly perfume each spring when the flowers bloom, but evidently their root system is not adapted to the conditions here.  By “conditions” I don’t mean the possibility of wind, which exists everywhere, but the likelihood of wet and shallow subsoil.  Even if it doesn’t rain for weeks and the leaves all turn brown, I am convinced that the aforementioned former canal (which continues to flow through a large pipe beneath the gravel) maintains some level of moisture which disturbs the balance between horizontal and vertical.  If I’d ever studied physics, I’d know what to call this. I suppose “topheavy” will have to do meanwhile.

Lime trees, or linden, have carried sacred significance for millennia for Slavs, Germans, and Greeks.  I respect the leaves’ purported healing properties also.  But I have learned that while it’s a great thing to wander among them at blossomtime, you’d better keep away when the wind rises.

Keeping as close to houses as you can manage, in case any rooftiles decide to join the party.

The firemen had quickly gotten to work removing this fallen giant, which must have been spectacular blocking the entire road.  Happily, the spectacle of damage to humans or houses was nowhere to be seen.

The firemen had quickly gotten to work removing this fallen giant, which must have been spectacular blocking the entire road. Happily, the spectacle of damage to humans or houses was nowhere to be seen.

I don't normally think of the tops of trees as being especially dangerous, but clearly the weight of the tree was enough to smash the clearly frail wooden fence, and not-so-frail stone bench.  That was impressive.

I don’t normally think of the tops of trees as being especially dangerous, but clearly the weight of the tree was enough to smash the frail wooden fence, and not-so-frail stone bench. That was impressive.

For anyone who wanted to read this tree's palm according to the rings, this was the perfect chance.  However, the plant's life story now has no future to predict, except for what happens next...

For anyone who wanted to read this tree’s palm according to the rings, this was the perfect chance. However, the plant’s life story now has no future to predict, except for what happens next…

Off to the mulching mill of Valhalla on Monday.

Off to the mulching mill of Valhalla on Monday.

Later that same day, toward evening, busted-up tree was to be found, in all its leafy glory, a few steps from our hovel.  Were they the same bits, moved to a better pick-up point?  Different bits?  Different tree?  Suddenly dissected trees seemed to be everywhere.  Till even later that evening, when we returned from elsewhere and it was all gone. Perhaps taken somewhere for constructing leafy bowers for Phyllida or the Faerie Queene.

Later that same day, toward evening, busted-up tree was to be found, in all its leafy glory, a few steps from our hovel. Were they the same bits, moved to a better pick-up point? Different bits? Different tree? Suddenly dissected trees seemed to be everywhere. Till even later that evening, when we returned from elsewhere and it was all gone. Perhaps taken somewhere for constructing leafy bowers for Phyllida or the Faerie Queene.

 

 
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