A MILLION STORIES IN THE BIG CITY (Just in the “Street Names”!)
Place names provide great insight into the history, land, people, places and events that occurred in a community at the time of the ” name placement”. Of course, the names can also lead to a misunderstanding of history when they replace earlier names, are mistranslated or misunderstood, or change in function over time. Although such misdirection may be as easily achieved as that perfected while wandering through the byways of Venice, names there provide a multitude of clues worthy of consideration.
The names of Venice byways are often, paradoxically, the source of both clues and confusion!
THE SOUTHWEST CORNER OF “1st” AND “A”
The names of new streets are often culled from a pre-determined master list by a City official. Your neighborhood may have “flower” or “tree” or “President” names. Some areas may reflect places far away – a neighborhood of via, rue, or calle. Older America towns often have “1, 2, 3” Streets in one direction and “A, B, C” Avenues perpendicular to them. The ubiquitous Main Street and Broadway, or Front Street (by the railroad tracks) vie with landmarks (Ocean, River, Mount X) for recognition. Other streets originally devoted to commerce may have names reflective of that type of business, such as Butcher, Baker or Candlestick Maker, or the names of founding families.
My favorite street name in California is Dead Cat Alley in the City of Woodland – a business street!
From time to time, a historical figure gained enough recognition to have their name usurp an earlier contender for honor or infamy! Often the street “surnames” are Avenue, Lane, Way, Drive, Circle, Court, Terrace or a cousin to one of them.
In more despotic countries, the leader du jour often names major streets after himself or herself! An industrial area may have streets named after inventors, engineers and scientists, while university area streets may feature educator and college names.
Some people familiar with Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, might find the Venice street naming and address numbering conventions no more difficult to use than those of Salt Lake, where addresses like 2010 North 1529 South A are typical!
I will leave divining the Venetian address numbering system to others!
WALKING THROUGH VENICE AND ITS HISTORY
I have found it useful and educational to identify a few types of names that have been applied to the byways of Venice, learn their locations, and consider their relationship to historic uses and events. Some of that study has actually helped us find our way around parts of the City, but your mileage may vary! Away we go!
STREETS, DOCKS AND BRIDGES
The name Calle is readily understood, but to call it a “street” is a misunderstanding! The name translates from the Latin callis, or “path”! Yes, there is at least one Strada in Venice, the Strada Nova built in the 19th Century, and one Via, Via Garibaldi, renaming of part of Rio d’Anna filled in during the Napoleonic regime where a “Napoleonic” name was no longer “required”.
are also easily placed, calli that are a combination of public ways and quays for interface with waterborne traffic alongside canals or rii. The history of fondamenti is a tome in itself, needed to cover uses, names, changes and events that occurred on them. Ponti, or bridges, are part of the pedestrian and handcart network, essential to life and commerce in Venice today, but from very few in the early years, over four hundred now exist, with about 20% added in the 19th Century alone. Therefore, the role of ponti in the history of and interaction among island communities in Venice must be carefully considered to avoid misinterpretation of the functions and urban form of each island. Their names are significant, as well, often identifying events, adjacent buildings and community entrances. Again, those names have also changed over time in a number of cases.
SPINE OR AXIS STREETS
Calle Longa or Lunga or Larga, or sometimes Stretta, are usually the spine/axial streets of an island neighborhood or community. Here are examples of current use:
- Dorsoduro: San Barnaba, Nani
- Santa Croce: dei Santa Croce, dei Codognola, San Giovanni Piccolo?
- Castello: Santa Maria Formosa, Quintavale (San Pietro [Olivolo])
- Cannaregio: dei Santa Catarina
- ____________________ (Your turn!)
- Cannaregio: Dei Boteri, Giacinto Gallina, Santa Maria Formosa, Priuli, Lezze
- Castello: San Pietro,
- Dorsoduro: Nani, Pisani, Santa Marta, Ca’Matta, de Ragusei, Foscari
- San Marco: San Marco, Mazzini, XXII Marzo
- Santa Croce: Piovan?, Santa Maria Mater Domini?
- San Polo: San Polo (a very short and small “larga” street!)
- Giudecca: Fernando, Dei Levraneri (Sacca Fisola)
- _____________________(Your turn!)
Shopping, banking and specialized business activities are often found on the cultural equivalent of “Main Street”. In Venice, Salizzada (with one or two z‘s), Ruga, Marceria, Frezzeria (even a Borgo) fulfilled that role. However, they are also found to be a use-related synonym for the spine/axial street in a particular parish. They are the appellations historically (at different times!) used for business streets with retail shops, financial institutions or specialized workshops (Frezzeria, for example).
A walk around the Rialto area on both sides of the Canale Grande, will reveal some excellent examples. Instances occur where a more current street name, evocative of person, place or historical event, may have replaced Larga, Longa, Lunga or Salizzada!
In Isola San Barnaba (Dorsoduro) for example, the segment of Calle Longa (a would-be or would-have-been Salizzada San Barnaba?) from the Campo to the Grand Canal is called Calle Traghetto, since it leads to the Traghetto landing on the canal.
A salizzada was often the local “high street”, and the earliest of paved calli. Due to extensive or specialized commercial uses and more recent terminology, some are not now delineated as a Salizzada, but as a Ruga, Borgo, Merceria, or Marzaria! Listing most of the Salizzada helps to identify the broad range of usage:
- Cannaregio: Santa Geremia, Santa Fosca, dei Spechieri, Serman, Pistor, San Giovanni Grisostomo,
- San Marco: F. dei Turchi, Santa Luca, San Moise, San Samuele, Malpiero,
- Castello: San Zanipaolo, San Lio, Zorzi, San Provolo, San Giustina, dei Gate, Pignater, San Antonin, Greci, Stretta, dei Gate (a mutation of Delegate!?!)
- Santa Croce: San Pantalon, Ca’Zusto, Carminati, San Stae,
- San Polo: San Polo
- Dorsoduro: San Basegio
- Yes, there are tunnels in Venice! However, they are not bored through mountains, but under buildings. Such a tunnel is called a Sottoportego.
A sottoportego is an “undergate”, a calle constructed through an existing building or simultaneously with a new building to connect a pre-existing calle, corte, fondamente or campo with another one. There are scores and scores of this device. Since many connect to then-new bridges between existing communities, they must be seen as “modern” interventions to avoid confusing historical relationships and overall community structure. The sottoportegi often completely changed the direction, focus and energy of connections between island communities, and all that followed. Some change direction along their route in a forboding, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here”, way.
WALKING ON WATER
Rio Terra, Rio Interrati and Piscina as “street names” represent paved, in-filled canals or ria (or, in the case of piscina, a small water body). Over forty are readily identified names for many of the in-fills that occurred in the 19th Century. Such in-fills may skew understanding of the historic urban forms and community interactions, requiring careful study with regard to their age and the intent of their “construction”. As Venice developed over more than a millennium, smaller canals and rii were reclaimed as habitable island edges, were often relocated to serve later needs, and as often eliminated due to erosion, neighborhood or institutional expansion. Before use of the rio terra naming convention, early “in-fills” often received names that hid a waterway past. The latest were created in the 20th Century.
A Ramo, or “branch” was normally a minor, dead-end calle, a cul-de-sac. Today, some link through to other calli via a bridge, or to a newer fondamenta or campo, furthering intriguing the decipherers of historical change in Venice.
One good example of now “not-dead-end” ramo is Ramo Calle Larga, Cannaregio (also mentioned above, a Calle Larga!) – made a “through street” upon extension of the Fondamenta Nove (“new quay”) along the Lagoon edge.
The photograph to the left IS a Ramo in Cannaregio, but not Ramo Calle Large.
In Venice, there is much to be learned by finding out “What’s in a name?”.
In the meanwhile, given the multi-layered and multi-faceted – at least five-dimensional -nature of the Venetian system, asking someone who appears to be a “local” for directions often helps. The common response may lead you further astray…
(This is Part IX 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: http://wp.me/pVUDj-rS . Please stop in again to visit previous articles and discover upcoming segments. Enjoy the journey! Buon Viaggio!)