Venice – Innovations, Old and New

Sometimes, the “original” planned or evolved layout of a Venetian island community has been lost during periods of “redevelopment” or expansion that obscured some of the earlier key elements and their relationships.  Those redevelopment events occurred numerous times in several dozen communities over centuries and into a millennium. 

The NEW Rialto Bridge!  (c)2009 Randy D. Bosch

The NEW Rialto Bridge! (c)2009 Randy D. Bosch

The “interventions” became part of the historic fabric that defines the city, and were themselves often redeveloped time and again. 

A very visible example?  Look to the Giudecca, at new Hilton in the old Molino Stuckey, where the old Chiesa Santi Biagio e Cataldi once stood, on an old reclamation of a mudbank from the Lagoon.

Examples in Venice include, but are far from limited to:

  • Creation and then expansion of the Arsenale and its related support industries, and its recent recycling into an international trade and conference center;
  • “Adaptive Reuse” of existing areas such as the Ghetto Nuovo, from which industries were relocated for centralization elsewhere;
  • Changing transportation technology impacting land use, such as the introduction of the causeway and railroad station, the creation of the ill-conceived Rio Novo “short-cut”, the imposition of the Strada Nova and Calle Larga XXII Marzo;
  • Changing and expanding governmental facilities, such as the Piazza San Marco vicinity;
  • Insertion of new institutions in previously underutilized areas within or adjacent to parishes, particularly convental and monastery communities such as the Carita, Frari or Zanipolo (Venetian dialect for Santi Giovanni e Paolo);
  • Innovations in commercial life and usage, including the transformation of the Fondaceo de Tedeschi (originally the German “trade center”) into the Main Post Office (now being converted again, into a shopping mall headlined by Benetton), or conversion of Molino Stuckey into a Hilton-centered resort (indeed, even the early insertion of the massive Molino Stuckey itself into the fabric of the City which included demolition of an old church), the conversion of the Dogana di Mare via public/private partnership into a new museum of modern art, conversion of the Carite into the Accademia; centralization of the markets at the Rialto;
  • Construction of major bridges with collateral expansion of connecting links (e.g., Strada Nova), such as the Ponte Accademia and recently the new “Calatrava Bridge” (Ponte della Constituzione) significantly altering movement patterns in the City;
  • Construction of new public spaces replacing previous uses, including creation of the Giardini Reali in place of the granaries, or the 19th Century Giardini Publicco – including its 20th Century overlay of pavilions for la Biennale di Venezia, a continuous “World Fair”;
  • Creation of new neighborhoods with plans that do not follow historical precedent, such as Sant’Elena, Sacco Fiesolo and the northern reaches of Sestiere Cannaregio;
  • Expansion of Isola San Michele to become the central Cimitero for Venice, absorbing an adjacent island parish and demolishing it;
  • Imposition of the glass industry, relocated from the main portion of the City, to Murano for community safety, and the rise and eventual relocation of other industries – first on the islands and then moved to the mainland;
  • Landfill to create and then evolution of the Stazione Marittima into one of the world’s largest mega-cruise ship ports of call. including conversion of the Napoleonic land reclamation for the Campo Marta parade grounds into the port support area;
  • Creation of the multitude of “Rii Terra” – the infilling of canals to create new calli or in a number of instances, area for a new Campo or building construction (including parts of Piazza San Marco) – obscuring traditional parish boundaries or knitting multi-island parishes into a restructured unit.
  • And on it goes!
Layers of Change - Molino Stuckey  (c)2008 Randy D. Bosch

Layers of Change - Molino Stuckey (c)2008 Randy D. Bosch

There are many other major and a multitude of minor transitions that have occurred with greater and lesser effect on the City and life within it. 

As we have discussed with regard to studies of the history of the city by many others, much of what we may learn today begins to be unveiled by carefully peeling away the layers of change that have occurred over the centuries!

It is far too simplistic, in fact an affront, to picture the reality of Venice – or the reality of your own city – as simply a “snapshot in time”.  Just as many “instants” or periods in our lives served to define or redefine “who we are” today to greater and lesser extents, what we discover from our searches for clarity in Venice’s complex past can wash away false impressions and predispositions to judgment, to enrich our comprehension of La Serenissima today.

Perhaps, for each of us, a reappraisal would be beneficial.  Consider whether or not your historical understanding and contemporary view of Venice is…

The real Venice!    

(This article is part of the series, “Venice – The Intentional City” on RenaissanceRules!  Part One, the Introduction, was posted on November 8, 2010, and can be accessed via this link: .  Please stop in again to visit previous articles and discover new segments. Enjoy the journey! Buon Viaggio!)


About randysrules

From a professional background in architecture, community and regional planning, urban design, leadership, and fine arts, this blog provides insights on ethics, leadership, architecture/planning/urban design, Venice, and whatever intrigues me at the time. Enjoy!
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