Several excellent in-depth research studies shine forth from among the endless number of biased opinions base upon dismissal of centuries-old first person reports about the history of small islands and now-abandoned islands in the Venetian Lagoon. The labor-intensive good works begins without “pre-suppositions looking for conforming data”, and delve deeply into documents contemporaneous with the history of the people and institutions that are – or were – located on the islands. Others use “remote imaging technology” (photogrammetry and aerial imaging) and on-the-ground archaeological investigations to search for sites and development scope.
Romans, Invaders and Fishermen
Ample evidence has been found of Roman-era use of a number of the islands – foundations, stone remnants and mosaic floors of villas being the most often located – and the presence of fishing villages or salt production operations during and after that period. Over the 1500 or so years since the intentional relocation into the Lagoon by mainland residents fleeing depredations by Trans-Alpine invaders, in addition to the core of Venice, towns on the Lidi, and Chioggia at the south end of the Lagoon, a number of other towns were developed that have since disappeared. Along with them were lost the churches and monastic institutions that were at the center of urban life. The most significant “disappearing acts” ended around 500 years ago!
Uncommon Cultures, Common Results
In Western North America, such places are known as ghost towns, of which hundreds are known. They range from pre-Columbian towns starting with stick and wattle construction, moving to unfired masonry and in some areas culminating with massive, designed stone masonry construction and engineered roads, usually abandoned between 900 and 1200AD perhaps due to crop failure, drought and disease or attacks. The more recent collection was developed during gold and silver mining booms of the 19th Century and abandoned when veins were exhausted or the “gold standard” was abandoned, whichever came first! Mostly of wood frame construction, a number of them had a few brick masonry buildings, usually banks and mercantile structures that still remain in some degree of ruin.
Old Records versus Modern Anthropomorphism
Old maps of the Venetian Lagoon give some clues about Lagoon ghost towns. The more arrogant Modern Masters in Digitally Generated Impressive Technology (MMIDGETs) give little credence to the accuracy of old maps, but many provide humble experts (and even amateurs!) with essential clues often more accurate than “high-tech” advocates give credit. A little more cross-culturalization between them is needed.
A few of the maps showing remnants of lost cities are Sabbadino’s 1556 copy from an earlier map; Augusto Denais (Capitano Napoleonico) 1809-1811 work; 1840 DeBernardi including work from earlier maps; and, a 1900 work recast by D’Alpaos in 2003.
A Well-Known Example
The most famous Venetian Lagoon “ghost town”, Torcello, “disappeared” as a town, yet its two foremost churches remain – Santa Maria Assunta and Santa Fosca.
Other churches, monasteries and monaches thrived there for centuries, then abandoned, work, art and inhabitants merged into institutions elsewhere, when each became “unpopular”, was suppressed, faced physical and financial challenges, fell victim to a changing environment, plagues, and other woes.
Ammiano and Constanziaco
Two of the half-dozen or so major towns that disappeared, virtually all located in the Lagoon north of Venice, were Ammiano and Constanziaco. (Caution – Many different spellings occur in the records – this article uses spelling found recorded for each specific church, monastery or monache in order to avoid further mutation. Variations below are not my typographical errors!).
These neighboring towns occupied two archipelago north-northwest of Torcello in the Fiume Sille delta. They slowly became unviable as town and institution sites dependent upon agriculture by the 15th Century due to population relocation to the “big city” of Venice, river siltation, inadequate tidal cleansing, rising sea water levels and sinking land.
One 2003 research study focused on Ammiano includes Constanziaco information. The “longest title ever” award must not dissuade its perusal, and may lead you to make other historical connections. Determined research at the State Archives and various churches located five Wills verifying the existence of many churches, monasteries and monaches in particular years by means of bequests, in addition to surviving commentaries and public agency records. If you are interested, train your “search engine” on on Venezia”, by David Busato, John Smith and Paola Sfameni.
The churches, monasteries and monache of Ammiano and Constanziaco are listed below with recorded or assumed original island names and modern remnants (if any), followed by “founded” and “demolished” dates (some exact, some estimations) from various studies, particularly including those discerned by Busato et.al.
AMMIANO (Gradually abandoned, ending in about 1452)
The major islands of the group also referred to as Ammiana that hosted this municipality were apparently Ammianella, Castrazio (for the Byzantine castle/fort, later La Motta di San Laurentio), (Orti de) Ammiana, perhaps Galiada, Ambrosio on the west side, Lesedi, and Sant’Cristina east of the main group.
Churches, monasteries and monache of Ammiano:
- Sancto Marco de Amianis (Parish)( dates not found )
- Sant’Apostoli Filippo e Giacomo (Parish)( ?? – 1387)
- San’Angelo(Zampenigo?)di Ammiana (Parish)(Orti di Ammiana)(pre-1195 – 1438)
- San Adriano or Ss. Andrea e Gia de Amianis (Mon)(Ammianella)(pre-1152 – 1455)
- Santa Maria de Galiata de Ammiana (Ambrosio or Galiada) (pre-1231 – 1415)
- San Pietro Casacalbo (Parish)(on now-named Cunicci de la Motta) (?? – post-1277)
- Sancti Felice e Fortunato de Amianis (Mon)(Lesedi, now La Salina) (889-1419)
- Sancti Apostolo de Amiana (Mon)(Ammiana)(pre-1228 – post 1277)
- S. Iohani Baptiste de Littore (Parish)(?? – post-1277)
- San Laurentio de Amianis (Mon)(Castrazio/La Motta di S.Lorenzo)(X-Century- 1438)
- San Marco renamed Santa Christina (Mon)(S.Cristina)(1185-1432)
CONSTANZIACO (Gradually abandoned, mostly before Ammiana, ending after 1649)
This town occupied two primary islands, Constanziaco Maggiore and Constanziaco Minore, in a group that included Contranica, Zucco Ceterga, Care (La Cura or Sant’Ariano), and Gaiada (an “outboard” part La Cura?), among others. Lio Piccolo, although a distance away, was apparently in the “sphere of influence”.
Churches, monasteries and monache of Constanziaco:
- Sancti Massimo e Marcelliano (Parish)(Isola Care/La Cura)(650-1279)
- San Matheo de Constanciaco (Isola Care/La Cura)(pre-1100 – 1298)
- Ss. Sergio e Bacco (Parish)(Isola Care/La Cura)(650-1271+)
- Sant’Adriano Martire (S’Ariano) (Mon)(Sant’Ariano on La Cura)(1160-1526?)
- Santa Maria Maddalena de Galgnada (Mon)(Gaiada? La Cura?)(pre-1025-1415?)
- San Giovanni (is this Zanipolo?) (Parish)(Isola Cura)(dates unknown)
- San Mauro, or San Moro (XII-Century – XIII-Century)
- Santi Iohani et Paulo de Constanciaco, or Zanipolo (pre-1228 – 1400+)
- San Pietro (?? – 1271)
- (San Salvador di Lio Piccolo [1183-1301])
Remarkable Places, Remarkable People and Untold Loss
Like Torcello, with an estimated peak population thought to have been between 10,000 and 20,000, Ammiana and Constanziaco had large populations, likely more than either Burano or Murano today, numerous parish churches to serve them, and the populace of many monastic institutions. We ought not to ignore or underestimate them, their people, their trials and accomplishments along the long road to the unintended and ignomious destination of becoming…
Ghost Towns of the Lagoon