Venice’s Master Plan of 1557

Venice Master Plan - 1557

Venice Master Plan – 1557

The collections of Venice’s fabled Biblioteca Marciana record a document in volume segnato 138.c.180, c. XVIIb described as:  “Design in pen and watercolor on two pages reunited to form a single page measuring mm 832mm by  626mm”.

The document so recorded is often replicated in books and articles about Venetian history, labeled an “old map” or “Sabbadino’s Map” of the City.  It is actually a Proposed Master Plan, developed in 1557 by Cristofaro Sabbadino, the Head of the Office of the Waters.  His job is comparable to that of a major City or County Engineer in modern times, a very important public works position.

The City Fathers tasked Sabbadino with creating a design plan and work program for completion of a boundary Fondamenta around the main City of Venice.  It had a four-fold purpose: to control erosion; to finally set orderly limits to the millenium-long expansion of the island group; to provide improved quays and walkways for the transport of people and goods to and around the City; and, to aesthetically complete the City in a manner worthy of the premier City of the World.  He did that with alacrity and vision, including on the plan an engineer’s estimate of the work area, components and construction costs for completing the effort.

Sabbadino’s hand scribed summary notes on the plan are worthy of our consideration, to understand what he and the City planned, and for comparison with what actually transpired since 1557.  This was the City that also planned and executed the massive re-routing of many major rivers around the Lagoon with new outlets to the Adriatic Sea via an extensive canal system, in order to eliminate the major sources of Spring floodwaters and siltation that damaged the Lagoon and the City.


My translation of Sabbadino’s notes is provided below, with apologies to those more skilled, and with a plea for correction where necessary!  Note that the “step” is the “Venetian foot” measurement of 347.73mm per step, and costs are given in ducati (d.).

 Engineer Sabbadino shares his plan for the Boundary Fondamenta:

“SUBSCRIPTION (UNDERWRITING): Recorded by me, Christofaro Sabbadino, engineer and head of the Office of the Waters dated in the year 1557.

COLORING: In blue the canals, in light blue the dry (tidal?) lagoon, in white the urban areas, in green the surfaces proposed for landfill, in sepia the outline of the fondamente that the author proposes to be constructed.

EXPLICATIVE NOTE: Making a Fondamenta around Venetia is designated; the area seen in green is added land from the fill of excavation mud, more or less. The area is 387652 square steps 10 l’a that evening mud for years 25 loads of the fill mud, about 50 per day using 300 day workers per year, at 2 ri per square step area.  It has these benefits: not just more land for Venetia, but eliminating the eroding mud now silting and requiring dredging of channels, and Venetia will be the most beautiful, and more commodious City of the World without any damage to anyone seeing the alterations.  That will be the plan places designated green, if the designated funding amount occurs, and a little more.

In Zudecha: 103360 square steps at 1/2 ducati/step                                                d. 51680

From S. Antonio to the Arsenale: 8002 square steps at 1 ducati/step                  d.   8002

From Corpus Domni to the Crosechieri: 40684 square steps at 2 ducati/step   d. 81360

By S.Ciara to S.Martino: 39950 square steps at 2 ducati/step                               d. 79900

Summary:             191936 square steps area                                             d. 220950

If done in easy stages of 6160 square steps of Fondamente surface stone outside of the rii at 13 ducati per unit                                                                                                        d. 80080

In to the Salizzada inside the foundations for the 10 step wide public road or 48000 square steps at 6 ducati each:                                                                                                   d.   8000

In 36 bridges at 150 ducati per span:                                                                         d.   5400

If funded, 127470 ducati is enough to reasonably articulate the canals:            d. 93480

GRAPHIC SCALE of 48mm per 200 Venetian steps [Scale ca. 1:7.244]

DIFFERENT INSCRIPTIONS: “The areas intended for landfill (colored green) lead the measures of surface in square steps (area). In the area of Santa Chiara the project prepares a dock for the boats to Padova and Vicennza; a second dock at the Misericordia for the boats to Friuli, Treviso and Fossalta. On the North shore, an area of enclosed water between the new Fondamente between the Riva Il Crociferi and Riva S. Giovanni e Paolo as a place designated to dock the timber rafts.”

 Thank you, Engineer Sabbadino!  Job Well Done!

Sabbadino’s plan also names canals, the closest islands, many churches, and other notable buildings.  A number of the canal names are different than those in use today, perhaps the subject of an interesting historical study!

Some then non-extant, proposed fondamenta and bridges have been built over the centuries since 1557, in roughly proximal locations to those on Sabbadino’s plan.  Others were never executed.  Expansions via landfill have occurred where the Boundary Fondamenta was not constructed, primarily in the 19th and 20th Centuries, including in the area of the train station, Piazzale Roma, Stazione Maritime, the area between Santa Marta and Santa Chiara (parade grounds for a while…), and Tronchetto, as well as the large expanse of Sant’ Elena on the eastern end of the City.

The casual flaneur, wandering about Venice, might break the mold, use Sabbadino’s “map” and track the planned Boundary Fondamente with its connecting bridges.  Caution is encouraged, however, for you may wet more than just your feet when you encounter the locations of…

Missing pieces in the puzzle that is Venice.


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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