Boatyards, or squeri, were widespread some centuries ago in Venice, with as many as 45 reported to exist in the “Middle Ages”. Today, few that seem to have had great longevity are found, and are presumed to have existed for the construction only of gondolas as we know them today. After all, didn’t the Arsenale or Darsena exist for construction of warships and merchant vessels? Perhaps that is an assumption not based upon fact!
Where were all of the vessels manufactured and maintained that were used for the delivery of food, fuel, water, mercantile goods from the mainland, from the magazen near the sea-going ship docks, and from the storage or trans-shipping areas housed at water level in the merchants’ palazzi? Think of all of the “work boats” that you see plying the canals and rii today, including those used for construction, demolition, trash hauling, ambulances, and police as well!
The photogenic Squero San Trovaso, on the Ria of the same name and occupying a “cut-out” corner of the Campo of the same name, is touted as the last survivor in some guidebooks, at least for gondola construction. Is it the only survivor, or perhaps the oldest one still operating, or are there other intriguing examples of squeri that “subvert the dominant paradigm”?
Some evidence of former squero locations exists in the City in as simple a form as surviving names of calli, campielli, sottoportegi or corti. I have observed and listed the following clues – like a game of spotting license plates from various nations and states, perhaps, but I am easily amused! Perhaps you can add to the list from your own keen observations from wandering about Venice!
That list has only 21 “finds” in the Sestieri, plus 3 on Burano, perhaps most of which represent some of the 45 medieval squeri. Perhaps distracted by other things, I have not “crossed paths” with any in Sestiere San Marco, Sestiere Santa Croce, or among the islands of Murano.
The existence of other historic squeri has surely been consumed by various “Rii Terra” and Fondamenti, or their identifying calle name changed to honor a hero, saint or new linkage across a ponte, or were buried under an expanding monastery, convent, Arsenale, Campo or government building. Boatyards for the manufacture of certain specialized craft may also have generated names other than squero.
A number of squeri are evident in early maps and in paintings by Canaletto and other artists. As part of an on-site research project study in 2004, The Traditional Boats of Venice, students Sean Candlish, Craig Shevlin and Sarah Stout from Worchester Polytechnic Institute searched the 16th Century Jacopo de’Barbari Map of Venice to visually identify squero sites, and also identified seventeen “streets” named Squero or Squeri. Their detailed report can be read on-line at: http://www.wpi.edu/Academics/Depts/IGSD/Projects/Venice/Center/Projects/IQP/E04/Traditional_Boats/Project_Report/E04%20Traditional%20Boats.pdf )
Today, any boat journey between and around the islands of the archipelago will reveal dozens and dozens of boat yards, repair and construction shops. Only a handful are engaged in the manufacture or maintenance of “traditional” non-motorized craft, however.
How many of the boatyards you may see today were in existence 100, 200 or 500 years ago, without a calle name to give some modicum of guidance about their age or specialization to a modern observer?
As for my limited observation skills (without resorting to “book research”, although I prize that endeavor as well), I will continue to work on the acuity level that Joseph Wood Krutch describes in his great book, The Desert Year…
“The rare moment is not the moment when there is something worth looking at but the moment when we are capable of seeing.”