Most Serene Places
From the magnificent palaces of the Grand Canal to the housing projects of Dorsoduro and Cannaregio, from the expansiveness of the lagoon to the intimacy of a corte, Venice is a city of big contrasts. Although we may have first fallen in love with her because of her open and unconcealed beauty, it's her grace and reserve, revealed to us only as we tread along her most quiet and unpretentious corners, that keep us coming back.
Architects and historians call these unassuming corners Venezia minore, a demeaning term, a misnomer. There is nothing minor about these places except, perhaps, a shortness of affluence. But what they may lack in wealth and prestige they make up in charm, tranquility and whimsy. I prefer to call them Most Serene Places. They are all over town in the six sestieri and beyond. Some are as small as a courtyard, still others encompass larger areas of the city. Here you will find some of my favorites. We start with three of them: Saffa, Chiovere di San Giobbe and Chiovere di San Rocco, but over time I would be adding a few more.
The district known as Saffa extends over a large area of Cannaregio between the Ferrovia, the Canal de Cannaregio and the Rio de la Crea. Saffa (Società Anonima Fabbriche Fiammiferi e Affini) was a factory of matches (fiammiferi) and related products that operated in Venice until the 1950s. Originally from Moncalieri, near Torino, this conglomerate of companies reached its peak during Mussolini's regime with factories in several Italian cities; but little by little the colossus was dismantled in the years following the Second World War.
After being abandoned for many years, the area was recovered for residential use. Under the direction of architect Vittorio Gregotti some 200 units were built in two phases, 1981-85 and 1998-2001. They maintain the general structure of the old city with campi and corti radiating into calli. To reach this area take either Calle Priuli dei Cavaletti or Calle de la Misericordia, off Lista di Spagna.
One of the most original "vere da pozzo" in Venice
A true "campo" with grass, loved by the pigeons
A touch of whimsy
Fondamenta Priuli dei Cavaletti
The residents of Saffa have water access through this boathouse on Rio de la Crea
We can't deny that we are in Venice
Chiovere di San Giobbe
Authors do not agree on the origin of the word chiovere. Some think that chiovere derives from clauderiae (Latin for enclosure), an old term applied to describe grassy and enclosed areas of Venice used for pasture. The best-accepted explanation is, however, that chiovere derives from chiodi or chiovi (nails) because of the nails used to hang fabrics after dyeing and washing. Regardless of the origin of the word, the truth is that these places were used for the dyeing of fibers, fabrics and leather. Their location was strictly regulated by the city of Venice. Three areas still carry the name chiovere: San Giobbe, San Rocco and San Girolamo, but the grassy land plots have been transformed into modern housing. Many of the houses in the Chiovere di San Giobbe were built at the turn of the 20th century as part of a long-term housing project that would bring "healthy and economical" houses to the people of Venice. These areas have a distinct characteristic, their houses are among the very few in Venice that have a front yard. The street names in the Chiovere di San Giobbe in Cannaregio still recall the activity that once took place here: Calle dei Colori, Calle del Scarlatto, Calle de la Corda, Calle del Saon. To reach this area walk on Fondamenta San Giobbe along the Canal de Cannaregio, past Ponte dei Tre Archi and the Rio de San Giobbe and make a left on the first street, Calle de le Canne.
By the 15th century the art of dyeing was already very well developed in Venice. The Plictho, the first comprehensive treatise on the art of dyeing, was published in Venice in 1548. Very little is known about the author Gioanventura Rosetti, except that he was born in Venice and by the year 1530 was already working at the Arsenal where he continued to work until at least 1548. The city records show his name as Zuan Ventura Roxeti. In addition to The Plictho he also wrote a treatise on perfumes published in 1555. According to his own account he spent sixteen years working with all his forces, devoting days and nights, months and years, with his "blood and poor substance," to compiling the formulas and recipes for dyeing all sorts of fabric as well as leather. He adds: "...these works of mine have been published for the benefit of the people of this illustrious City of Venice, my Fatherland, my nest, and my heritage. So that my remarkable Senators can obtain benefit in their houses and workshops, increasing the number of masters who will wish to exercise these three arts, so that there be decorous and suitable rooms to carry out such workmanship, thus one can only expect great, useful benefit and honor to this illustrious City." It seems that his book wasn't just about dyeing, it was also about capitalism, and above all about Venice.
The book begins with the following poem as an epigraph:
"O might it be, that Readers find delight
In this work that to the living is so opportune.
Set apart are Purple, Yellow, and how to brown,
To color in Wine, and faded shades,
The green, the blues, and scarlets
And those that carry the emblem of fortune."
The Plictho of Gioanventura Rosetti
Instructions in the Art
of Dyers Which Teaches the Dyeing of
Woolen Cloths, Linens, Cottons,
And Silk by the Great Art
As Well as by the Common
Poem translated by S. M. Edelstein and H. C. Borghetty
Illustration from "The Plictho" by Gioanventura Rosetti
Calle de la Corda (corda: line, string, rope)
"Saon" in Venetian, "sapone" in Italian, means soap.
Chiovere di San Rocco is enclosed between the Scuola and Church of San Rocco, the state archives, Rio de le Muneghete and Rio de San Zuane Evangelista in San Polo. Some of the street names include Calle de le Chiovere, Calle de le Sechere and Calle de la Laca.
Church of San Rocco
Almost an antiquity at the beginning of Ramo Cimesin
Ramo Cimesin. Cimesin is the name of an old Venetian family.
Modern capitelo dedicated to the Madonna and Child on Ramo Cimesin. A little Venetian gem.
Calle de le Chiovere
Calle de le Chiovere
Calle del Campazzo
Fondamenta de le Sechere and Rio de le Muneghete
Corte del Volto Santo
Next to Ponte de l'Anconeta, and tucked away at the end of a sotoportego off Rio Terà de la Madalena, is the attractive Corte del Volto Santo (Holy Face) built by silk merchants from Lucca at the end of the 14th century. As a result of the immigration waves that accompanied the Crusades, Greeks, Sicilians, Saracens and Jews settled in mainland Italy and brought with them the art of silk weaving that in a short period flourished in the city of Lucca. The beginning of the 14th century brought political instability to Lucca and many of the families involved in the silk trade decided to emigrate to Venice which by then had become one of the most important commercial hubs in the Mediterranean. In 1360 the merchants from Lucca created the confraternity of the Volto Santo, named after a crucifix much venerated in their native city. According to legend, the crucifix was carved in cedar wood by Nicodemus, who along with Joseph of Arimathea prepared the body of Jesus for burial, with the help of angels. After finishing carving the body of Jesus and unable to carve his face, Nicodemus went to sleep and when he woke up he found that the face had been sculpted by angels. The crucifix was brought to Lucca in the year 742 and is venerated today in the cathedral of San Martino.
The Lucchese community of Venice acquired in 1370 an area beyond Rio dei Servi where they built an oratory and established a cemetery next to the Servi church. In 1398 they bought a plot of land on the other side of the canal to build the headquarters of their confraternity and ten houses for poor people. This is the Corte del Volto Santo today. The wellhead and many of the sculptures that grace this beautiful corte are original from 1398 or soon thereafter.