07 August, 2006

74. Zattere

The usually fairly short paved stretches running partway along the sides of canals or fronting the lagoon are known as the 'Fondamente' – the 'foundations', which I suppose is an appropriate name for the place at the sides of the canals where the lower levels of the buildings begin.

Sometimes these walkways have a unique name of their own, for instance, one of the fondamente beside the Rio San Barnaba is called the Fondamenta Gherardini. Sometimes they will just take the name of the Rio they run alongside, for instance beside the Rio Novo is the Fondamenta del Rio Novo.

This particular fondamenta is longer and wider than any other in Venice and it has many names, although it is only ever known by one. It runs along the southern edge of Dorsoduro, looking across to the island of Giudecca, and at its western end it is the Fondamenta Zattere al Ponte Longo, which becomes the Fondamenta Zattere al Gesuiti, which runs into the Fondamenta Zattere Incurabili, then the Fondamenta Zattere al Spirito Santo, then the Fondamenta Zattere al Saloni, and finally the Fondamenta Dogana e la Salute, when it reaches the eastern tip of the sestiere at La Dogana at the mouth of the Grand Canal.

That may be its real names, but to most Venetians and to the world, the whole of this long promenade is only ever referred to as the Zattere.

Timber was the main building material in Venice, and rafts made of and carrying timber were floated from the Republic's forests on the Veneto mainland down the River Piave and towed across the lagoon to this quayside. 'Una zattera' means a 'raft', and this was once a busy dock where countless 'zattere' carrying vast quantities of building material were dismantled and brought ashore.

Nowadays, the Zattere is a very pleasant place to sit in the summer sun with an espresso at a waterside café, or, like this couple, to have a leisurely misty winter afternoon stroll to the shops.

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