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LIFE ON THE LAGOONS



BY THE SAME AUTHOR
Second Edition. Demy Svo. With Maps. \6s.

VENICE

An Historical Sketch of the Republic



'This is in truth a chronicle which
follows out with industry and accuracy
the maze of Venetian history. ... As an
historical sketch it is admirable.' Times.

' The reader can hardly fail to catch
some of the enthusiasm of the writer as he
follows this fascinating story of the rise
and fall of a once rich and flourishing
Republic.' Manchester Examiner.

' At last we possess, in this excellent
volume, a full and adequate history of
Venice in English. It was a work worth
doing, and Mr. Brown has performed it
with care and judgment.' Daily Chronicle.
1 Mr. Brown has brought to his task
both knowledge and sympathy, and the
result of his labour is that he has produced
a book worthy of his subject. . . . From
first to last the story is one of absorbing
interest.' Aberdeen Journal.

' Venice holds so high a place in the
affections of all who are sensible to the
charms of beauty and dignity, that Mr.
Horatio Brown's excellent sketch of its
history is sure to receive a warm welcome.
His book has many merits. . . . While
giving due prominence to the constitutional
history of Venice, he is never dull, and has
indeed rendered this side of his subject
specially interesting.' Saturday Review.



'Although, in general terms, this work
may be described as a history of Venice,
it has been carried out on so original a
plan as to deserve a distinct and pro-
minent place amongst the many volumes
which have been devoted to a record of
the rise, development, and decline of the
Venetian Republic' Glasgow Herald.

' Mr. Brown has imprisoned the atmo-
sphere of Venice into his pages, has for the
most part made her heroes live again, and
has brought out fully the poetry and
pathos of her wonderful career.'
Westminster Gazette.

' Mr. ' Brown has performed his task
with skill and taste ; and a picture is pre-
sented of the process by which Venice
was built up and fell from its high estate,
which is at once brilliant and accurate.'
Scotsman.

' Mr. Brown's learned and yet thoroughly
readable book is published in a fortunate
hour, both for author and reader. When
he writes about Venice we feel that his
sympathy with his subject has given him
the power both of comprehending things
Venetian and of extending that comprehen-
sion to his readers.' Manchester Guardian.
'A valuable and fascinating work,
evidently the result of research and study.'
Daily Telegraph.



London : RIVINGTONS



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LIFE ON

THE LAGOONS



BY

HORATIO F. BROWN

author of 'venice: an historical sketch of the republic'



THIRD EDITION



G3tt!j 3[Uuj8tratiotiiS



RIVINGTONS

34 KING STREET, CO VENT GARDEN

LONDON

1900



( The rights of translation and of reproduction are reserved.)



TO

MY GONDOLIER

ANTONIO SALIN

MY CONSTANT COMPANION

IN VENICE AND
VENETIA



PREFACE

In preparing this new edition of Life on the
Lagoons, I have re-written the chapter upon the
structure of the Venetian estuary, and have
added a very brief history of those who made it
their home. I trust that this condensed account
of the Venetian Republic may prove useful to
those who visit the City in the Lagoons. I have
also included some description of the restorations
which have recently been carried out at the Ducal
Palace, based upon information furnished to me
by the architect in charge of the works. The
addition of illustrations to the book will, it is
hoped, prove acceptable. Those chapters in the
first edition which referred chiefly to the main-
land of Venetia have been omitted, with a view
to concentrating the work upon the city of
Venice; they may, perhaps, be utilised, some
day, in a companion book upon the cities,
villages, and castles of the Veneto.

HORATIO F. BROWN.

Ca' Torresella, Venick,
February 1894.



CONTENTS



PAGE



The Lagoons : their Nature and their History, . i

The Gondola, 60

The Traghetti, 85

A Gondolier's Bank, 113

Floods in the City 120

The Casa degli Spiriti, 125

Sant' Elena, 130

Osele, 136

Sails and Sailmaking, 147

A Vision of La Sensa, 160

Processions, 166

San Nicolo del Lido 175

The Doves of Saint Mark, . . . . .181

The Ducal Palace, 185

All Souls' Day, 194

The Madonna della Salute, 200

Home Life, 206

Popular Beliefs, 229

Popular Poetry, 240

A Regatta and its Sequel, 264

1 Mi Chiama il Mare,' 282



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

The Lion of St. Mark, ..... Frontispiece

On the Lagoon, Page 9

Venetian Fishing-boat, 25

The Statue of Colleoni, 50

A Gondola of 1480, 69

Early Forms of the Gondola, 75

A Modern Gondola, 81

Traghetto of Santa Maria Zobenigo, .... 97

Venetian Osele, 137

A Bragozzo, 153

Chiozzotti, 159

A Bragozzo off the Gardens, . . . . .169

Plan of the Ducal Palace, I9 3

Well and Courtyard, 205

Alla Speranza 221

Gossip at the Well, 224

The Murazzi, 227

A Champion Oarsman 273

Wine-making, 277

Fokze d'Ercole, 278

Bathing, 292



THE LAGOONS

THEIR NATURE AND THEIR HISTORY

I
The Lagoon of Venice is a sheet of water covering a
surface estimated at 160 square geographical miles.
Speaking roughly, its form is that of a crescent moon :
the convex side represents the shore of the lagoon
towards the mainland ; the concave side is formed by
a number of long, narrow sandbanks called Lidi,
which divide the lagoon from the open Adriatic.
This sheet of water is at its widest just where the
city of Venice is placed ; though even there it is not
more than seven miles across.

But this large body of water is neither a marshy
swamp, nor a tidal lake, nor the open sea ; it is a
place peculiar in every way. There are three chief
factors in the formation of this basin, and it is by
fixing our attention upon these that we shall best
succeed in understanding how the lagoons were
created. These three factors are the sea, the Lidi,
and the rivers.

I have placed the Lidi in the middle, because they
come there in nature between the sea and the

A



2 The Lagoons

rivers ; and because they are the most important
factor, governing, as we shall see, the whole nature of
the lagoons.

With the Lidi, then, we will begin. Towards the
Adriatic run these long, narrow islands, never more
than half a mile wide, formed of sea-sand on the one
side and lagoon-mud upon the other. There has
been much speculation as to the way in which these
islands were formed. It is possible that at one time
they belonged to the mainland, and were the real
coast-line in that direction ; but the land behind
them being at a low level, hardly distinguishable
from that of the sea, may have been flooded by the
united action of the sea sweeping landward, and of
the rivers the Brenta, Sile, and Piave sweeping
seaward from the Alps and the eastern plain of Italy ;
and thus the Lidi, while they continued to be the
limit of the sea/ ceased to be the real coast-line of the
mainland, but behind them lay this area of water
which we call the lagoon. Or it may be that the
Lidi are nothing else than the bar built by the rivers
across their own mouths. These long ridges of sand
were slowly piled up between the salt water and the
fresh, between the rivers and the sea, as a monument
of their eternal struggle whose issue was never
decided. As they raised their heads above the water-
level, they offered a resting-place for wind-blown seeds
that blossomed into grass and flowers and manifold
vegetation. They presented a sandy rampart to the



Their Nature and their History 3

Adriatic, and kept it out, so that it could no longer
break on the very shore of the mainland ; but at the
same time they dammed back the rivers, whose waters
found a difficult and tortuous passage to the sea, and
therefore submerged the delta at their mouths and
made the lagoon.

Whichever view be the correct one, the Lidi came
into being between the sea and the lagoon, and form
the feature of highest importance in the character of
the water surface upon which the city of Venice lies.
Their great function is that of protection to the
capital, and to her inhabitants, from two enemies
a stormy sea and a hostile force.

The Lidi form one of the most admirable natural
defences against an attack which it is possible to
imagine and in this way. The long line of sandy
islands is not uninterruptedly continuous ; it is broken
at five points, forming outlets to the sea and inlets
to the lagoon : these breaks are generally known as
Porti or ports. It is obvious that an enemy, in the
days before cannon of any range were known, wish-
ing to reach the city, must first reach the Lidi, and
then pass through them with his boats ; otherwise he
would find himself in view of the city, it is true, but
still separated from it by the stretch of the internal
lagoons. The 'enemy, therefore, must seek out the
position of one or other of these five ports, and then
steer for it, before he could hope to enter the lagoon.
But nature has protected each of these ports upon



4 The Lagoons

the sea side in a singular fashion ; and if the enemy,
using his common-sense, steered straight for a port, he
would soon find himself stranded upon a sandbank
some distance out at sea ; for the deep main channel,
by which the waters flow in and out of each port, does
not proceed seaward in a straight line, but in every case
trends southward, having on one side of it the sea-shore
of the Lido and on the other a wide bank of sand
covered always with water, but so shallow that any
day at low tide, if a little breeze be blowing, you
may see the white line of breakers on its farther
edge.

The cause of this phenomenon, which has given
to Venice a second and invisible line of defence after
the obvious rampart of the Lidi, is, that in the Adriatic
there is a permanent current which, starting from the
Mediterranean, flows up the eastern coast by Dalmatia
and Istria, round by the head of the gulf, and returns
by the western coast to the Mediterranean again.
This steady-flowing current, in its ceaseless sweep
past the porti of the Venetian lagoons, meets the
waters that flow in and out of these porti. In the one
case it drives the inflowing tide close to the Lido
shore, and makes a channel ; in the other case it
draws the outflowing tide with it, deflecting it south-
ward, and this also deepens the channel and confirms
the previous operation. The channel is kept open by
this daily ebb and flow, and thus becomes habitual
to these waters.



Their Nature and their History 5

But there is another, a graver and more constant,
danger against which the Lidi serve as a protection
to Venice and the Venetians. A hostile fleet off the
Lido was a comparatively rare occurrence ; but a
stormy sea might spring up at any moment : yet it
is only the narrow strip of sandy dune we call Lidi
that protects the city from the angry Adriatic. If the
scirocco should chance to blow, you will hear borne
high up in the air the boom of the waves breaking
on the Lido shore ; should that frail sandbank once
give way, the impetuous seas would come rolling in
upon the city, sweeping its palaces and churches
down to a watery destruction, such as the imagination
of Tintoret has pictured on his canvas at S. Maria
dell' Orto. And, listening to this thunderous attack
of the sea, we know what the old Venetians must
have felt before the Republic undertook to build
these bulwarks of defence, the murazzi or sea-walls,
along the Lido at its weakest points. For this strip
of sand is never more than half a mile wide, and in
some places, near Pelestrina for example, it is not a
hundred paces that separate the sea from the lagoon.
The danger that the Adriatic might make incursion
into the lagoon was always so serious, that from
the earliest times the question of palisades occupied
the attention of the Government. There is little
doubt that the Lidi were originally covered with that
most beautiful of pines, Pinus pinea, or stone pine,
which used to form the glory of the Ravenna forest.



6 The Lagoons

With the gradual felling and consumption of these
sea-shore forests the danger to the Lidi increased,
and the Government were obliged to take the matter
in hand. But the earliest protection which they
devised for the Lidi was not those great walls of
hewn stone which run now from Pelestrina down
towards Chioggia, but a much simpler and more
primitive bulwark, yet one which is in use to this day.
If you wish to see what the old defences of the Lido
were like, make your gondolier stop on the way to
S. Elizabetta, at what was once the beautiful Island
of S. Elena, and there you will be able to study the
device of palisade and rubbish by which the old
Venetians used to prevent the sea from eating its
way through the ramparts of the Lido.

The Lidi, as I have said, are the chief factor in
the formation of the lagoons, and their function was,
and is, more especially protection. The sea is the
next important factor, and its function is pre-emi-
nently that of vivifying. Without the diurnal move-
ment of the sea, the lagoons would become an oozy
mass of pestilential mud. Originally the sea was by
no means the sole supply of water in the lagoons.
The rivers Brenta, Sile, Piave, and other smaller
streams used to discharge their waters into the
Venetian estuary. But the mingling of salt and fresh
water rendered the air of Venice malarious, and the
earthy deposit brought down by the rivers threatened
some day to choke up the basin, so the Govern-



Their Nature and their History 7

ment turned its attention to the expulsion of the
rivers from the lagoon. This was no easy task ; for
those rivers, starting from their 'high mountain
cradles' among the Dolomite Alps, and having but
a short course from birth to sea, acquire in their de-
scent an impetuosity that in flood-time is irresistible.
The Government, however, by dint of patience and a
great expenditure, succeeded in their object. The
Piave was diverted to a new mouth, the Sile was
forced to follow the old bed of the Piave, and the
Brenta was carried along the borders of the lagoon
to the sea at Brondolo ; only a very small portion
of its waters now find their way into the lagoon at
Fusina.

It is the sea which is the great alimentary of the
lagoon, and twice a day its waters come pouring in
upon the lagoon surface, sweeping round the walls
of the city and through its narrow canals, performing
their ' task of pure ablution,' and at their outgoing
carrying with them all the refuse of the town.

But this ebb and flow of the sea in the estuary is
not a simple operation it is a complex of various
similar, but perfectly distinct, operations ; and it is
this complexity which imparts to the lagoon much
of its extraordinary character as a natural pheno-
menon.

To understand the nature of the ebb and flow in
the lagoon, we must return for a moment to the Lidi.
Those long strips of land are broken at five points.



8 The Lagoons

These breaks are known as (i.) The Porto of Tre
Porti ; (2.) the Porto of S. Erasmo ; (3.) the Porto of
Lido ; (4.) the Porto of Malamocco ; and (5.) the Porto
of Chioggia. The Lido Porto is that which conducts
to Venice, and by it, under the Republic, the war-
galleys used to reach and leave the city. In order,
therefore, to deepen the channel by increasing the
current and the scour, the Government closed the
Port of S. Erasmo, compelling most of its waters to
pass through the Lido Port, and very little water
enters or leaves the lagoon by S. Erasmo a quantity,
in fact, that we may neglect ; and in considering the
internal economy of the estuary, we have to deal only
with the four ports of Tre Porti, Lido, Malamocco,
and Chioggia.

We shall best appreciate the nature of the ebb
and flow of the tide in the lagoons by following the
movement of the water as it sweeps in by one of
these four ports.

The surface of the lagoon is not a stable surface.
At high-tide it is water, at low-tide it is to a very
large extent mudbank ; but these mudbanks are
cut in all directions by innumerable channels, some
large and deep, kept open artificially by means of
dredging, some narrow and shallow, which eventually
lose themselves among the innermost recesses of the
lagoon. These channels are the natural courses
which the water has formed for itself in its outgoings
and incomings.




ON THE LAGOON



Their Nature and their History n

If we follow the sea now as it enters by the Lido
port, we find it sweeping in with impetuous force and
speed through that narrow opening, having all the
swelling of the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and the
Adriatic at its back. It spreads rapidly at first
through the innumerable channels in the mudbanks,
filling them till they brim over and flood the whole
surface of the lagoon, and it looks no longer like a
vast muddy field, but seems rather to be some great
lake with a fairy city buoyed up on its breast. The
tide flows on past Venice and Murano to Campalto,
to Mestre, to Fusina, all of them upon the mainland ;
and the farther it draws away from the sea and its port
of entry, the more it loses its speed and the slower it
flows. But some of its waters do not flow straight
for the mainland ; they are diverted by channels to
right and left. The waters to the left flow on towards
Malamocco, till in a line near the Island of S. Spirito
they meet the tide which all this time has been
coming in at the Malamocco port, just as the tide
which we are following has been coming in at the
Lido port These two inflowing tides meet, and, as
they have each of them lost much of their primary
force, they easily neutralise one another, and come
nearly to a standstill ; then each of them deposits
the burden of sand and mud which has hitherto been
swept along with it suspended in its current, and so
at this point of juncture a little mound or watershed
is gradually built up, which, although it is of no



12 The Lagoons

appreciable height, is still sufficient to compel the
waters to return by the way they came when they
receive their summons to the sea once more. The
same thing has been happening contemporaneously
on the right-hand side of the Lido port, at the
Island of the Santi, near Burano, where the tide
that came in by the Lido meets and neutralises the
tide that flowed by Tre Porti. And so again at the
Ca dei Furlani, near Pelestrina, the Malamocco tide
meets and neutralises the Chioggia tide. These
points of juncture are called spartiacque, or water-
sheds; and the result of this curious action of the tide,
which I have been endeavouring to explain, is this,
that the Lagoon of Venice, apparently all one, is
really divided into four sub-lagoons, with three lines
of separation three watersheds at the Santi, at
S. Spirito, and at the Ca dei Furlani respectively.
Each of these subsections is a water system complete
in itself, with its watersheds, its small streams, and
its main rivers, which lead and reconduct the tide
from and to the sea.

I mentioned the fact that the incoming tide loses
much of its speed in its passage from the ports to the
farther recesses of the lagoon, and this diminution of
force has gradually produced another division of the
lagoon surface into what are technically called the
Laguna viva and the Laguna morta, the Live and
the Dead Lagoon.

The Live Lagoon is that part of the lagoon



Their Nature and their History 13

where the force of the tide is most active, where the
difference between high and low tide is distinctly
marked by the disappearance and the reappearance
of the mudbanks.

The Dead Lagoon is that section of the lagoon
which is nearest to the mainland, where the water
hardly feels the life and the vivifying influence of the
tide. It lies in semi-stagnant pools between the little
islands, which are tufted with sea-grass, or tamarisk
and pale sea-lavender, that spreads over the surface
of the doubtful land a shimmering veil of blue in
summer when the plant comes into flower, or a
mantle of rich purple in autumn when the sea-
lavender dies down.

Such is the action of the sea upon the lagoon.
While the Lidi take the largest share in the formation
of this basin, it is the sea which imparts to it the
special internal characteristics which it displays its
double division into subsections and into Dead and
Live Lagoon.

As the tide rises and falls in the estuary, the mud-
banks are alternately covered and laid bare. But
even when the tide is full it is not possible for boats
to traverse the surface of the lagoon in all directions,
for in many places the water is not more than three
inches above the muddy bottom. It is therefore abso-
lutely necessary for boats to keep to the courses of the
deeper channels by which the sea flows in and out of
the lagoon. The surface of the lagoon is traversed



14 The Lagoons

by five main waterways ; all of them centre in Venice.
The line of these channels is defined by pali or posts
driven into the mud along their margins.

The pali form not only an important feature in
the Venetian landscape, but they are absolutely
essential to the navigation of the lagoons. Without
them even a native would be almost sure to miss his
way and to find himself stranded on a mudbank,
where he would have to wait till released by the
rising tide. The impassability of the lagoon surface
has frequently proved one of the most valuable
defences of the city from the days when the Frankish
chivalry under Charlemagne's son were led to their
destruction by the old woman of Malamocco, rex
consilii as she is called, who told them that Venice,
which lay in sight, could easily be reached across the
six miles of shoals and mudbanks and intricate wind-
ing channels. And were it not for the pali, of which
there are upwards of 20,000, the same fate would cer-
tainly overtake many a modern voyager upon these
waters. Their beauty, their fascination, their infinite
variety ; the glory of autumn sunsets ; the tremulous
white light on a summer dawn ; the vast arch of
heaven spread over the lagoon ; the perpetual change
and shimmer of colour on the water surface ; the
stationary, immovable Alps with their mantle of im-
maculate snow, with these and with much more the
reader may become intimately acquainted for himself,
should he embrace a life on the lasroons.



Their Nature and their History 15

II

Such are the chief physical features of the
lagoons, and hardly less remarkable than the lagoons
themselves is the history of the way in which the
Venetians settled there and constructed one of the
most famous and most beautiful cities that the world
has ever seen.

The colonisation of the Venetian estuary is
usually dated from the year 452, the period of the
Hunnish invasion under Attila, when the scourge of
God, as he was named by his terror-stricken op-
ponents, sacked the rich Roman cities of Aquileia,
Concordia, Opitergium, and Padua. In one sense
the date is correct. The Hunnish invasion certainly
gave an enormous increase to the lagoon population,
and called the attention of the mainlanders to the
admirable asylum which the estuary offered in times
of danger. When Alcuin, the great scholar from
Yorkshire, was teaching Charlemagne's son and heir,
Pepin, he drew up for his pupil's use a curious
catechism of questions and answers. Among others
this occurs : Quid est mare ? ' ' What is the sea ? '
' Refugium in periculis.' ' A refuge in time of danger.'
Surely a strange answer, and one which can hardly
be reckoned as true except in the particular case of
the Venetian lagoons. For the mainlanders were
caught between the devil of Attila and the deep sea
of the Adriatic, and had they not found the lagoons



1 6 The Lagoons

ready at hand to offer them an asylum and to prove
a refugium in periculis, it must have fared hard with
them.

But this date of 452 is not to be taken as the date
of the very earliest occupation of the lagoon. Long
before Attila and his Huns swept down upon Italy,
we know that there was a sparse population occupy-
ing the estuary, engaged in fishing and in the salt
trade. Cassiodorus, the secretary of the Gothic
King Theodoric the Great, has left us a picture of
this people, hardy, independent, toughened by their
life on the salt water ; their means of living the
fish of the lagoons ; their source of wealth the salt
which they extracted from its waters ; their houses
wattled cabins built upon piles driven into the mud ;


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