Daily life, religion, nature and protection of the Lagoon.

This image is the oldest prospective view of the Venice lagoon, published in 1528 in a book that will become known as "Isolario" and opens our journey between earth and water through time, to know Venice and its islands.

[Rari V. 111, B. Bordon, Libro nel qual si ragiona de tutte l'isole del mondo..., [Vinegia, Zoppino] 1528; ff. 29v-30r "Map of Venice". On concession of the MiBACT - National Marciana Library. Prohibition of copy.]

Islands to confine contagion and insanity
Far from the beating heart of the city, a few islands were used for care of the sick and to confine and prevent contagion, as in the case of the plague.

Just two hundred metres from the Lido, an island with a terracotta perimeter wall can be seen emerging from the lagoon: this is Lazzaretto Vecchio.

Over the main entrance to the old hospital on Lazzaretto Vecchio (“Tezon vecchio”), there is a relief with the patron saints Sebastian, Mark and Rocco, surmounted by the lion of St. Mark (16th century), a clear symbol of the hospital’s control by the Most Serene Republic.

Designated by the Venetian Republic as a place of care for plague victims in 1423, it later became known as the Lazzaretto Vecchio, to distinguish it from the other Lazzaretto, established in 1468 near the port of Murano.

Having already belonged to the Hermits of St. Augustine, the island was enhanced in 1249 by a church dedicated to St. Mary of Nazareth, perhaps because pilgrims returning from the Holy Land gathered there. The remains of the cloister and well head can be seen in the picture. Already from the second half of the 16th century, these buildings were used to house crews and militias arriving from the Levant for preventive quarantine.

Changed from St. Mary of Nazareth to Nazaretum to Lazzaretto, probably due to assonance or because of the nearby island settlement of San Lazzaro, this name became used for centuries throughout the West to indicate a place for the quarantine of people and goods with suspected infections.

From the second half of the 16th century until the mid-19th century, the buildings were also used for the quarantine and disinfection of goods, as seen from some inscriptions still visible on the internal walls. The island was then used as a military storage area until 1965.

The lagoon seen from Lazzaretto Vecchio. Today, the island is the focus of a development project and a series of archaeological surveys have been conducted to reconstruct its long and complex past.

San Servolo: insanity. An island in the centre of the lagoon, with a view of the San Marco Basin: from a place of worship to a place of refuge for the mentally ill until 1978.

The first Benedictine settlement took place in around 800 AD, when monks fleeing from the Franks took refuge on this island. Subsequently, Benedictine nuns remained there until the 17th century.

From 1725 to 1978, the island assumed the role of a hospital for the mentally ill. The island is now a centre for cultural and scientific activities of international renown.

The devotion of Venice: sacred and profane on the islands.

In 1577, to express gratitude for its narrow escape from a plague, Venice assigned Andrea Palladio to build the Basilica of the Redeemer on the island of Giudecca.

Although commissioned to Andrea Palladio, he did not see it finished: it was completed on his behalf by Antonio da Ponte in 1580, in accordance with the original design.

The Basilica of the Redeemer is a prime example of Renaissance architecture, with Palladio’s design inspired by classic temples and a whitewashed interior that gives it depth and grandeur.

San Giorgio Maggiore. The Basilica and monastery complex of the island of San Giorgio Maggiore are still used by a monastic community.

The Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore seen from Giudecca island. One of the most beautiful views of Venice can be seen from the bell tower of the Basilica, which dates back to 1791.

Unlike all the other churches in Venice, the Basilica is the only one with a statue of a saint on top of its dome: all the others have a cross.

Palladio’s design for the Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore was later realised by the architects Scamozzi and Sorella, who completed it in 1610, faithfully following the Vicenza architect’s drawings.

Like a painter’s palette, the Basilica has provided many artists with an opportunity to express themselves: it houses works by painters such as Jacopo and Domenico Tintoretto, Sebastiano Ricci, Palma the Younger, Vittore Carpaccio and others.

The wooden choir stalls behind the high altar depict the story of St. Benedict, carved in 1595 by the Flemish sculptor Albert Van Den Brulle, together with Gasparo Gatti.

Torcello: sacred and profane. The island is one of the oldest populated areas in the lagoon, founded in the 7th century on the site of a Roman settlement by the inhabitants of Altino who were fleeing from the Lombards. Today it is almost completely uninhabited but offers us the remains and allure of its long history.

Il Ponte del Diavolo (The Devil’s Bridge). The origin of the name of the bridge is not certain, nor is the date of its construction. It is thought to be a nickname, “the Devils”, that was given to a certain Torcello family. Other suggestions are linked to a legend about a young girl who made a pact with the devil for the return of her lover, who had been killed. In any case, the distinctive feature of this bridge is its construction: together with the Ponte Chiodo (in Cannaregio), it retains the typical appearance of a Venetian bridges, built without a parapet.

According to legend, the Throne of Attila belonged to the king of the Huns, who led an invasion that terrorised an entire era, but which never actually reached this island. This ancient monolithic throne was probably used by the local governor in the administration of justice and for council meetings.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, from 639 AD, is the oldest religious building in the lagoon. It was rebuilt in the 11th century in a Venetian-Byzantine style and its interior houses mosaics of great value.

An example of early Christian architecture, from the start the church has served as a reliquary or martyrion, characterised by its typical central Greek-cross plan surmounted by a dome.

Daily life on the islands
Food, nature and everyday life

Burano: colour. The name Burano derives from “Porta Boreana”, a name given to the island because of its location in the northeast, the direction from which the bora wind blows.

There is a legend regarding the island’s multi-coloured character: apparently, the fishermen painted their homes so that they could recognise them from a distance when returning from long fishing trips.

The homes on the island are mostly small, square houses with two or three storeys. Their bright colours once served to mark the property boundaries.

Since the days of the Republic of Venice, Burano has had a population of about 8,000 people, who lived modestly, mainly from fishing and agriculture. With the development of the handicraft and skill of its lace makers, it began to grow, prosper and become known for this extraordinary and unique product of patient hands.

Sant’Erasmo is the second largest island after Venice. From the most distant past, the island has served as the “garden of the Republic”, with cultivations of vegetables, violet artichokes, cardoons, asparagus, grapes and fruit. Recently, due to a desire to restore the island’s ancient identity and culture, the vineyards have been replanted in an ideal location in order to grow and restore the gastronomic importance of the island.

Pellestrina serves as a barrier between the open sea and the lagoon habitat. With its barely existent population, over the years the island has become a virtually unspoilt natural oasis.

The Cà Roman nature reserve on the island of Pellestrina is one of the most beautiful places in the Venetian lagoon. Although classified as a semi-natural environment, it provides a habitat for nearly 200 species of birds, both migratory and resident, according to a survey in 2012. In order to ensure an ever-smaller impact of human presence on the oasis, the beaches are cleaned without the use of mechanical means. This is in an attempt to preserve a shoreline microfauna that is unique in the world (including particular species of beetles) and in danger of extinction.

The role of defence
From defence from sea waters to defence from external enemies: the islands defending Venice

The Murazzi: an engineering work by the Venetian Republic, built from Istrian stone to defend the lagoon from the erosion of the sea. The work is divided into three parts: on the island of the Lido, the island of Pellestrina and the Sottomarina coastline. Here we see a picture taken on the island of Pellestrina.

Military defence of Venice and the lagoon. The Fort of Sant’Andrea on the island of Vignole. Built on the ruins of previous structures, the fort in its present form originates from the mid-16th century. Two episodes have made the fort known to history. One of the most famous and troublesome characters of the Republic, Giacomo Casanova, was imprisoned here for a few months in 1743. A single shot was fired from the Fort of Sant’Andrea on 12 May 1797, which decreed the end of the Most Serene Republic. The shot struck the French ship, Liberateur d’Italie, killing its captain. The fury of Napoleon was swift: he managed to definitively breach the city’s defences, forcing it to capitulate.

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