Venice, Italy, is the ultimate meeting of City and Sea on earth, the two inseparably intertwined.
What is the simple, yet necessary connection between the constructed City and the Lagoon in Venice?
Between campo and boat, or palazzo and ship of commerce? The fondamenta comes easily to mind – a hard-edged walkway alongside a canal where boats berth so that goods and people can embark and disembark onto a usually public right-of-way. Prime parking spot assignments for watercraft are most often immediately adjacent to them, to avoid climbing high fondamenta walls and low tide, or hoisting loads and people over the canal-side railings found along many of the City’s secondary and tertiary watercourses.
Yet, there is a simpler and necessary connection – the water steps, passaggi d’aqua or scalinata aqua (or one of several other appellations…).
They are a necessity in a City that dances with the tides.
The steps are the easiest and best way to access boats on the rii and canale. Many a passaggi is too often overlooked, causing missteps and falls or underappreciated because their indention into a fondamenta interrupts straight-line perambulations.
Their green, algae-covered slipperiness has misled many folks looking for a different view, or a place to sit and rest for a while when low tide reveals them. Many also have uneven surfaces or loose stones.
Beware! Or, into the canal you go!
Much has been written about the essential composition of Venice, land and water, people and nature, islands and Lagoon. Venice’s boats, navy, sea trade – even its marriage to the sea, the over 400 bridges, the relationship of community centers (campo, church, well, market, commerce) to an adjacent canal – all have been lauded.
A 2009 study entitled “Easy Docks”, performed by FormaUrbis, a vehicle of the Venice Project Center of Worchester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, U.S.A.. This effort for the Comune di Venezia identified literally hundreds of water steps as part of cataloging the “banks” of the City. A slightly fuzzy snapshot summary of the study can be viewed on FormaUrbis’s website, at http://www.formaurbis.com/archives/easy-docks/ .
The purpose of the study was to help organize maintenance efforts for the fondamente including these small but essential pieces of the urban fabric by locating, recording and mapping every location into the City’s Global Information System (GIS). Studying a canal or ria (small canal) that has been coffered dammed and drained for reconstruction will reveal how the passage stop below the normal low tide water line – appearing in the drained canal to be hanging in mid-air – often supported on stone corbels back to the wall of the canal.
Some watersteps are broad – the width of an approaching calle, ramo or campo. Others are “notched” into the parallel fondamenta with steps aligned in the direction of travel – one way or two ways, some with the steps straight down into the water.
When you immerse yourself in the history and culture of Venice, the historic dance of water and land playing figuratively in your mind, keep a wary eye alert for every single one of the passaggi, so that you do not…
Literally immerse yourself in the Lagoon.