The Gondola

You cannot leave Venice without having admired the city from another perspective, without filling your eyes with the sight of magnificent buildings reflected on the canals, of dusk light floating on water, you can’t  leave Venice without experiencing the magic and the relaxation of a gondola ride.
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The sarde in saòr

One cannot leave Venice without having tasted one of the trademark dishes that blends into one the city’s marine flavour and the aroma of the islands’ orchards: sarde in saòr.

It is a grass-roots dish made of few and humble ingredients, whole and extremely flavourful (the term “saòr” means in fact “flavour”).

Its origins go back to time immemorial. Imagine Venice after the year 1000, when most people had humble occupations and were used to eating what the land and the sea had to offer, and now add the challenge of preserving food in those times: well, sarde in saòr are a consequence of all this.

One of the most available and abundant resources for local fishermen, back then just like nowadays, were sardines. At times huge quantities would be fished, so how could people store these delicacies for a while longer?

Easily done… roll the sardines in flour then dip them into boiling oil; meanwhile in another pan brown thinly cut onion strips, and then flavour them with a good deal of vinegar.

Once the sardines are fried and the onions seasoned with vinegar, a layer of sardines is placed on a large plate, which is then covered with onions, followed by another layer of sardines and again onions on top.

The secret to this dish is to let it lie for a day or two because the longer it lies the tastier it gets. The vinegar keeps the ingredients fresh and organic. In times when fridges weren’t even conceivable, this allowed sarde in saòr to be consumed many days after preparation, and indeed would often be kept in the food supplies of fishermen and sailors at sea.

The mix of fish and vegetable provided a whole meal, and the vitamin C present in onions was a great counteragent to scurvy, which used to ravage boats and ships in those days.

Sarde in saòr are commonly served in all the traditional restaurants and bacari (Venetian bars) spread across the city and its islands. Over time the recipe for sarde in saòr has been revisited and today it can be enjoyed with the addition of pine nuts and raisin.

Art and professions in the Dorsoduro Sestiere

The apotheosis of Veronese and the boatyard where gondolas are made.

Are you looking to avoid crowds and the usual touristy walks?
Do you want to hear Venice’s primitive pulse, by exploring a true gem of Venetian art and one of the city’s historic professions?

In Dorsoduro, the area in the southern part of Venice, you will find the Church of San Sebastiano, a glorious set of paintings by Veronese, and the Squero of San Trovaso, one of the city’s oldest and most picturesque boatyards, where boats are still built today.

The Church of San Sebastiano 

A few steps from the magnificent view of the Giudecca canal on the Zattere lies tucked away the Church of San Sebastiano, built in the mid-15th century for the Eremiti Monks of San Girolamo (the Gerolomini), where their convent stood. At the beginning of the 16th century, the primitive structure was renovated by one of the most important Renaissance architects, Antonio Abbondi (known as Scarpagnino), who confered the recognisable neo-classical façade in Istria stone we see today, which can admired from the bridge leading to the entrance.

The friendship between the convent’s prior, Father Bernardo Torlioni, and Veronese was crucial in building the reputation of the Church of San Sebastiano that has lasted through the centuries. At a time when Venetian art was dominated by Titian and Tintoretto, through the ranks came the young Paolo Caliari known as the Veronese, who in 1554, at the age of 26, was commisisoned to paint the Sacresty by the church’s prior.

Just like the Scuola of San Rocco for Tintoretto, the Church of San Sebastiano was truly love at first sight for Veronese, who worked there repeatedly over the next 20 years with his pupils, leaving around 60 paintings and frescoes, among which stand out Il Trionfo di Mardocheo, the splendid altarpiece on the high altar with La Madonna in gloria con San Sebastiano e altri Santi, the Martirio di San Sebastiano and the organ’s doors which, when closed, display La presentazione al tempio, and when open, La piscina probatica. 

The eternal bond between Veronese and the Church of San Sebastiano is not solely tied to his artwork; indeed, on one side of the central nave lay his remains.

And if you’re still hungry for more, inside the Church of San Sebastiano you will find works by other famous painters such as Palma il Giovane, Paris Bordon, Vicentino, Schiavone, and last but not least, even Titian with a splendid San Nicola.

The Squero of San Trovaso

Again a few steps from the same wonderful view of the Giudecca Canal, the route of frequent passing ships, one can find the Squero of San Trovaso, an ancient boatyard for the construction of Venetian ships, still active today.

The origin of the word “squero” is still debated: some trace it back to “squadra” (triangle), the measurement tool essential to any builder, and others claim the term derives from the Greek “ἐσχάριον” (eschàrion), meaning “construction site”.

Visitators seeing the Squero of San Trovaso from the outside for the first time often say: “Wait, are we in Venice or in a village up in the Dolomites?” This is because the buildings surrounding the boatyard greatly resemble the architectural style of houses in Cadore in the near Dolomites, where in the 1600s the first shipwrights hailed from, (the same people who founded the site in fact) and from where most of the wood for construction arrived. A tribute, therefore, to their place of origin and a way, perhaps, to curb their homesickness.

The Squero of San Trovaso is one of the few active boatyards in Venice and by far the most widely-built boat is the gondola (see our article on this most famous Venetian boat in the blog), which is still assembled with the same methods of the past, through an exclusively manual process; this makes each gondola, for however similar to others, totally unique.

Visiting the Squero of San Trovaso is a truly original experience filled with pathos. You will see the shipwrights at work, tread on the shavings of wood used for building boats and breathe in its unique smell, you will observe up close the various components of a boat, each a masterpiece of craftsmanship in its own right.

Leaving the Squero of San Trovaso you will see the Chiesa of San Gervasio and Protaso (also know as Church of San Trovaso), which has a sensational painting of L’ultima cena by Tintoretto, one of the many “last meals” painted by the Venetian art genius.

The History of Venice

452  – Attile the Hun levels city of Aquileia: refugees flee to islands of Venetian lagoon

568 – refugees fleeing Lombards double lagoon’s population

697 – the parlamentari council proclaims Venice a Republic and elects the first Doge 

829 – remains of St. Mark brought from Alexandria to Venice  

999 – Holy Roman Emperor Otto III journeys to Venice and grants major commercial concessions

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Venice and Belle Époque, the foreigner Simmel and Monet

The old and the new clashed frequently, and were never to be reconciled in the twentieth century. Nor was Venice able to escape the vilification and ambivalence that appeared in the interpretations in the early century . But the old Serenissima was not yet dead: indeed there was renewed fascination with the eighteenth century.

For the German sociologist Georg Simmel Venice was dangerous and unnerving as a result of its cult of appareances, its masquerade culture. In 1907 Simmel wrote comparative essays about Florence and Venice in wich he cast Florence as the male city, strong and manly, with robust palaces, and Venice as female, of course, severed from relationships, a shallow place of mere apparences. Venice is the artificial city where the people walk, again, as if on stage that lacks extension to right or left. Nature is foreign to it , since greenery is absent and therefore the seasons make little impact.
Simmel admitted that Venice was a unique order of the form of world consciousness. But it was a negative attribute> in fact it constituted the tragedy of Venice.
He felt the proximity of the subconscious, and the irrational, and feared it, for it was compounded by the city’s very appareance, its geography, material life, its lack of nature, and transport either by foot or by gondola. The tempo of the city of gondolas and pedestrians was akin to the monotony of walking, wich made the experience close to dream and therefore unreal, without the the jolts necessary to vitalise everyday life. A fateful ambiguity is born of the physical reality of Canals and Calli> it is neither land nor water. This is a life state, one of floating restlessness wich dislodges the soul and makes it homeless. While this disabling state creates the classic city of adventure, it is a condition of weakness, psychologically invalid, for it lacks of forceful tension, and male willpower. Simmel ignored the energetic financial life that Venice represented as much as did Florence.
Claude Monet, famous French artist accepted the challenge of Venice in the first decade of the XX century. Claude Monet’s series of paintings devoted to the city were the fruit of a two/month stay in 1908. He was sixty eight years old when he came with his wife in Venice in hotel Britannia (now Europa Hotel), Madame Monet found its plumbing and electricity were magic. From Palazzo Barbaro, Monet painted across the canal to the Palazzo Dario, and the Palazzo Contarini. In the area of the Bacino he painted Doge’s Palace and the island of San Giorgio. These paintings are a late point in a plain-air tradition, the summention of the habit of looking now so intensively personalized they becomes expressionistic, reaching beyond ordinary specifics of colors a and lights.

Gondola’s Features

In order to navigate in a straight line the Gondola must be unbalanced: 33 feet long, almost 5 feet wide at the center, and weighing 4 quintals. It is piloted by a single gondolier thanks indeed to its asymmetrical line. The oarsman, besides steering it forward, must also control the lateral movement. With the left side more than 9 inches longer than the right side, the craft floats leaning to one side and becomes maneuverable only when the pilot is on board, balancing the thrust of the single oar that would tend to make it move toward the left.
The only metallic elements are the “ferro” (the word means iron) at the bow and the “risso” a curled ornament at the stern. It is shaped like a comb , with six teeth recalling the city’s six districts, while a solitary one, turned in the opposite direction, refers to Giudecca.