This site is an outcome of the Comenius 2008-2010 multilateral project "European Journey Through Legends".

"Becoming more European does not mean forgetting our national cultural heritage, but sharing it with other European nation".

Venice - the town from the heart of water

The Venetian Lagoon

The Venetian Lagoon seen from the Skylab The Venetian Lagoon stretches for 30 miles from north to south, and Venice is in its strategic centre. According to a recent theory the area occupied at present by the waters of the lagoon was once a landmass. Then a combination of natural phenomena operated a dramatic change: the rising of the sea-level and the gradual sinking of landforms - subsidence - caused a rather rapid advance of the sea through disastrous floods. Between the 2nd and 12th C the increase of the sea level has been estimated around 1,80 mt (approx. 6 feet) while landforms had sunk approx. 1,20 mt (approx. 4 feet).

Sand carried down by the rivers and shaped by marine currents eventually formed bands along the coastline, which in due course practically locked the Lagoon in on itself, with the exception of 3 port of mouths. The presence of the caranto as a sedimentary rock, deep into the subsoil of the lagoon, is significant evidence that at one stage there was no water in this area.

A section of the Venetian Lagoon subsoil Information on the lagoon goes back to the 3rd Century: Erodiano, a Roman chronicler reports this lagoon as part of the Seven Seas, a navigable network of waterways along the coastline which connected the city of Ravenna to Aquileia.

Then, more information in 537, in a letter written by Cassiodorus, officer at the Goth's court. The lagoon area is described, the natives' homes dispersed across the surface of the water, boats tied up at the doors. Fish and salt their basic economic resources. Salt being very important, for it was needed to preserve food... So, these boatmen claim our attention as the first people who found a way of making a living in this mixture of mud and water. Yet, we cannot actually refer to these settlements as VENICE. 

“Il Carnevale”

It's been a big dream of every traveller to visit Venice during the Carnival. Buy a mask, put on a long cloak and wander through the early morning mists of the lagoon in late February was my fantasy.  Also take lots of photos for disbelieving relatives back home. This is the best way to celebrate the carnival with the best backdrop in the world!

Venice is a city of fairytales at anytime, but nothing compares to it during the fabulous celebration known as Carnival! It is a city steeped in traditions, a city with a rich history with past intrigues, power and pageantry. I really thought about how much this place is like a movie set. Everything just seemed to be unreal, from the narrow streets to the saturated colors of the buildings.

In our February trip to Italy, some of us had the opportunity to spend a day in Venice during "Carnevale". Animation, popular music and dancing bring together locals and visitors. Venice's Carnival took place in this year (2009) in February 14th - 24th. The ceremony for opening the Carnival started with an event called “The Angel’s flight. Another main event is the parade of costumes from Piazza San Marco. The Carnival ends with a impressive fireworks games which is also held in the San Marco Square. We were there in February 15th, the first Carnival’s Sunday. Looking at our pictures everybody could understand the way we felt there. Trying to get around Venice during the Carnival was a real challenge. It seems all the people from the earth were there!

Being there, was an extraordinary experience: for a couple of hours the reality of every day life was replaced with a fun and festive atmosphere. Venice is a magic place, is the perfect place where you could be lost on time and history, through velvet’s masks, black mantles and tricorn hats. 

You could spend a lifetime in Venice, and still not know it. And, I think I'm one of those people, who have fallen in love with a city…Venice.
During Carnival the streets are alive, people wearing masks are all over. You could meet harlequins or other masks typical for the “commedia dell'arte” or ladies of the 18th century, or Don Giovanni or the famous Casanova and his beloved Camilla. The City of Venice is a masterpiece born from water. Venice looks like a complicate maze with narrow and gloomy streets, small gardens, colorful boutiques, dark and twisting canals and miniature bridges.

Venice could be visit only by feet or by gondola. All those streets are going to the city center, in San Marco Square, the heart of the town, one of the most beautiful place from entire word. In this charming “plazza”. Who hasn't heard about the romantic “Piazza of San Marco”, “Ponte dei Sospiri” - the bridge of sighs and the Doge’s Palace?

The modern Venetian Carnival culminates on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (known as "Mardi Gras"), commencing two Fridays before the Tuesday. Venice carnival dates therefore vary annually, in step with Easter as follows:

Carnival 2007 - February 9-20
Carnival 2008 - January 25-February 5
Carnival 2009 - February 13-24
Carnival 2010 - February 6-16
Carnival 2011 - February 25-March 8

Venice Carnival is steeped in history, charm and tradition: its inhabitants and tourists alike have taken a keen interest in it, thanks to its mix of transgression, art, history and culture in one of the most unique cities in the world.

Where does Carnival come from? And what is it, really? First mention to origin of Venetian Carnival start in the 12th century. The Carnival finished sometimes around 18th century, when Venice has been merged into Austria, and lot of traditions were forbidden. Starting form 1979 the authorities of Venice decided to recreate this lost tradition.

Carnival, or Carnevale, has been celebrated for centuries throughout Italy. Carnival was a pagan ritual marking the end of the old year on winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. With Christianity it became the time when confessions were made in preparation for Lent. And Carnival probably derives from old Italian “Carne levare”, a farewell to meat - and flesh! - before the rigours of Lenten fast. Eventually, it evolved in a relatively short period of merrymaking which reached its climax the day before Ash Wednesday.

Well, in Venice Carnival began on Boxing-day, the day after Xmas, and ended with Mardi Gras...The ceremonies accompanying the event were just extraordinary:

Bullfights in Campo San Polo The flight of the angel was an acrobatic stunt where an equilibrist had to jump from the bell tower, slide on a rope and end in the arms of the doge assisting on the balcony to give him a bunch of flowers. Bullfights instead took place in the campi (the squares of Venice). Consider that in February 1789 the doge Paolo Renier died and the announcement of his death was postponed, so as not to spoil the Carnival!

Venetian Masks But masks and the same gay spirit lasted almost all year round. The mask was used as a disguise to go to parties, brothels, gambling houses, nunneries.
From early date, tourists reporting on Venice included enthusiastic or disgusted comments on her courtesans. The most notorious picture of Venetian licentiousness is to be found in the memoirs of Giacomo Casanova.
Coffee houses multiplied. There were dozen around the Piazza, including Florian which opened in 1720 and Quadri in 1775.

So, 18th C Venice was pervaded by a spirit of festivity, and light-heartedness which derived from the absence of any serious purpose arising from political involvement.

There are many stories regarding wearing masks in Venice. Wearing masks has always been more than just simple fun for the Venetians; it's still a strongly felt tradition with deep cultural roots. Venetians were famous for being libertines and for transgression - they didn't just use masks during the official Carnival. Putting on a mask in Venice meant taking forbidden liberties: you could gamble without being caught, to hide from gambling creditors, to take risks over love or business etc.

Masks made the Venetial carnival unique. If you cannot identify the wearer of the mask, you do not know his social status. In this way Venice temporarily overturned her social order. Laws were passed to limit the wearing of the masks during the carnival period only. If they were worn out of that period severe penalties were enforced.

The Bauta (La Bauta)

The etymology of Bauta is uncertain: Tramatar believed it may be derived from the German verb "behüten", that is to protect (the wearer). Alternatively, Durante and Turato refer to the Veneto-Italian "bau-bao", which was a bogeyman like character used by adults as a method to scare children (Danilo Reato). "Se non stai bravo viene il babau e ti porta via." - (trans. "if you do not behave, the babau will come and take you away"). The original elements of the Bauta disguise comprises of the typically shining white face-shaped mask ("larva" or "volto"), a black cape or veil of silk, a cloak (tabarro) or mantle, and a three-cornered ("tricorne") hat. The Bauta was worn by both Venetian ladies and gentlemen alike.

The most traditional type of costumes worn during the long history of Carnival included longnosed masks in black or white, a black cloak or white veil, and a tricorn hat.

The “bauta” is typical mask in Venice during XVIII century. This mask could be wore both during carnival and normal life as common accessory. For many historiographers, Word bauta come from children claims "bau-bau" and for other historians, from "bava" the name of cone of lace in Venetian dialect.


This is a "mask which covers the whole face, with a stubborn chin line, no mouth, and lots of gilding.One may find masks sold as Bautas that cover only the upper part of the face from the forehead to the nose and upper cheeks, thereby concealing identity but enabling the wearer to talk and eat or drink easily. It tends to be the main type of mask worn during the Carnival. It was used also on many other occasions as a device for hiding the wearer's identity and social status. It would permit the wearer to act more freely in cases where he or she wanted to interact with other members of the society outside the bounds of identity and everyday convention. It was thus useful for a variety of purposes, some of them illicit or criminal, others just personal, such as romantic encounters.
There are many kind of typical masks. One is "servetta muta" (the silent maid) and this is a little black mask for women with a button to be kept only with the mouth.

Another one has a long nose contained filter prepared with aromatic plants to send away the awful smell of the water from the channels during historical times. Other traditional masks were some masks which were wear by man in the purpose to be disguise with female clothes. 

Strange old times, adventurous lifestyle!

Commedia Dell'arte

Commedia Dell'arte (trans. "comedy of professional artists" or "comedy of humours"), also known as Extemporal Comedy, was a form of improvisational theatre which began in the 16th century and continued to be widely popular up until the 18th century. The performances were improvised by each theatre company around a repertory of stock conventional situations, which tended to revolve around the topics of adultery, jealousy, love and old age.
  • Abadea is the fool who laughed at nothing.
  • Arlecchino (French: Arlequin, English: Harlequin) typically depicted in multicoloured costume comprised of diamond shaped patterns. Painted by Antoine Watteau,
  • Brighella (French: Brighelle), a cunning and mischievous servant. He is associated with Bergamo.
  • Colombina (French: Columbine), maid-servant counterpart of Arlecchino (Harlequin).
  • Il Capitano (the Captain), Cap. Bonbardon, Mala Gamba, Belavita & Zerbino are just some examples of the many forms of the character and Italian masks depicted in the series of 24 etchings, Balli di Sfessania (cerca. 1621) by Jaques Callot.
  • Il Dottore (the Doctor, usually called Dottore Balanzone,  Balordo or Graziano). He is associated with Bologna.
  • Innamorata (the Lover) is the leading woman. She wore no mask (see innamorati).
  • Innamorato (the Lover) is the leading man. He wore no mask (see innamorati).
  • Isabella (Lucinda, Cornelia, Silvia, Rosaura) is Pantalone's daughter.
  • Mezzetino (equivilent of Mezzetin the French figure), painted by Antoine Watteau).
  • Pagliaccio (the Clown).
  • Pantalone or Pantalone dei Bisognosi, (French: Pantalon, English: Pantaloon). He is a Venetian Merchant
  • Pedrolino (or Pierino, most commonly nowadays known as French: Pierrot)
  • Pulcinella (related to the Italian: pulcino or chick) is a crooked-nosed hunchback. He was the model for Punch in the English puppet theatre Punch and Judy. He is associated with Naples.
  • La Ruffiana (Old Woman) is usually a mother or gossipy townswoman who intrudes into the lives of the Lovers
  • Scaramuccia (French: Scaramouche) a roguish adventurer and swordsman who replaced Il Capitano in later troupes.
  • Zanni is a threadbare old servant from Bergamo. He is associated with Bergamo & Venice.

The Winged Lion of Venice

Every city has its distinction; its mark on architecture. For Venice, Italy that mark of distinction is a winged lion. Why a lion when Venice is a maritime city? The symbol does seem an oxymoron but its roots lie deeply in history.

The winged lion was at first St. Mark’s symbol but was later used as the Medici family’s way of showing the power of Venice. Legend tells us that in the Ninth Century some adventurous Venetian thieves stole the remains of St. Mark the Apostle from Egypt. They smuggled the body onto the ship by stuffing flowers and sow meat around the body so as to keep onlookers away. Soon they made it to the vessel and prepared for sail. No sooner than they had made it to the open water, a storm took hold. It was then that St. Mark “appeared” to the captain and warned him to strike the sails lest the ship crash on the rocks. They survived the storm and reached their intended destination. Local Venice religious authorities elected St. Mark as the patron saint of Venice and the winged lion (St. Mark’s traditional symbol) as the logo of the Venetian Republic.

The winged lion, which according to the vision of St. John in the Book of Revelation is the symbol of St. Mark, became the emblem of the city and is to be found everywhere to look after the Venetians. The winged lion is a symbol of peace and is seen in a multitude of other locales such as the Assyrian temple, the Gates of Xerxes at Perespolis, and the Winged lion of Babylon. Today tourists can see winged lions not only as a Venetian symbol of power and prestige, but as a part of the rich heritage and mystique of the city. 

Venice -the Laguna of Love-

It is well known Venice is a town which is define through romance, it's a town of supreme love but also is the town of deepest and cruel love’s betrayals. Of course, this town has many legends and stories. If the stories are true or not is doesn’t matter, Venice still remain a mysterious and very attractive place.

The Gondolier (oarsman) under a Venetian law, must have been born in Venice to become a Gondolier. The oar is held in an oar lock known as forcola. This oar has a complicated shape that allows the Gondola to be steer precisely. It is useed for going forward, turning, slowing down and rowing in reverse. The front ornament known as Ferro has to purposes besides being an ornament; one purpose, is to protect the front from an accidental damage, and the other purpose is to counterweight the front with the back as the Gondolier steers in the back.

Another local legend promises eternal love to couples that kiss in the Gondola under every bridge in Venice, specially the “Bridge of Sighs”. Of course, the bridge of sighs could remind about the agony of love of Casanova - eternally lover.

The Bridge of Sighs (Italian: Ponte dei Sospiri)

This is a bridge in Venice, northern Italy. The enclosed bridge is made of white limestone and has windows with stone bars. It passes over the Rio di Palazzo and connects the old prisons to the interrogation rooms in the Doge's Palace. It was designed by Antoni Contino (whose uncle Antonio da Ponte had designed the Rialto Bridge), and built in 1602.  The view from the Bridge of Sighs was the last view of Venice that convicts saw before their imprisonment. The bridge name, given by Lord Byron in the 19th century, comes from the suggestion that prisoners would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice out the window before being taken down to their cells. In reality, the days of inquisitions and summary executions were over by the time the bridge was built and the cells under the palace roof were occupied mostly by small-time criminals. Also, they could barely see any view from inside the Bridge due to the stone grills covering the windows.

Those legends makes Venice to be another city of love. There is one legend who tell us Venice has appeared from the water. Unfortunately, this city has an unsure future: the town is sinking into the sea. It seems, this town has the curst and the honor of hard times, but who know, the power of love will save the city.

Saint Mark and the Fisherman

Near the Palace of the Doges in Venice there is a wide marble bridge which is crossed by hundreds of busy feet all day long. But few of the people who pass that way ever notice a little marble picture, close to the pavement, tucked away into a corner of the bridge. It is the picture of a gentle-faced Madonna with her Baby, and underneath are two quaint-looking boats, with some words cut out in the marble.

Sometimes when a gondola goes gliding under the bridge some one with noticing eyes will see the little marble picture and ask the gondolier why it was put there.

"Signorina," says the gondolier, "there is a wonderful and true story about that little Madonna. I cannot tell you the story now because there is so much noise and confusion in these little canals. But some night when we are out on the great lagunes I will tell you why the Madonna and the boats are there."

And this is the story which the gondolier tells under the stars, out on the calm, still water of the lagunes. The far-away lights of Venice shine like a circlet of diamonds with their long reflections in the calm waters. The world seems to our eyes like a crystal globe, for who can tell where the sky begins and the water ends, or which are the most real, the stars overhead, or their twin reflections below? The fireflies come out and breathe and vanish and glow again. A little flame of blue fire breaks the surface of the water as the oar dips down. There is magic in everything around, which well befits the telling of the old Venetian legend.

Long years ago there lived an old fisherman in Venice. He was an honest, hard-working old man, who had nothing in the world but his nets and his fishing-boat. But what more would you have?

At night he tied up his boat under the wide, white bridge, and slept there snugly until the morning. It was as good as a marble palace to him.

Of course there were storms in winter, but his boat was always safe in the shelter of the bridge until one terrible night.

The winter was almost past, for it was in the month of February, when a storm burst over Venice, such as no one had ever seen before, and no one has ever seen since. For three days the storm raged, and the waters rose higher and higher until it seemed as if Venice would be swept from her foundations.

The old fisherman in his little boat was moored as usual under the bridge, but the mad swirl of the waters broke the moorings and he was swept out into the open, and only managed with great difficulty to reach the steps by the Riva of San Marco. There he landed wet through and greatly fearing what would happen next. There was nothing to do but to sit down and wait patiently for the storm to cease, while the angry waves beat against his little boat, and the night grew darker and darker.

Presently, as he sat there alone, a man came down the steps and stood beside him. The old fisherman knew most of the Venetian people by sight, but he had never seen this man before.

"Fisherman," said the stranger, "wilt thou row me across the water to San Giorgio?"

Now the island on which San Giorgio stands was not far off, but between was a grey belt of raging waves lashed ever higher and higher by the fierce gathering storm.

The old fisherman pointed to the waves and then to his little boat.

"How can I row thee across?" he shouted, for he needs must shout to be heard above the roar of the wind; "my boat would be dashed to pieces in a moment, and we would both be drowned."

"I must reach San Giorgio to-night," said the stranger, "and I will pay thee generously."

Well, seeing it was the will of heaven and hearing that he would be well paid, the old fisherman entered the boat with the stranger and managed to push off from the shore. What then was his amazement to find that it was quite easy to guide the boat. The tempest still raged around him, but the waves seemed to spread themselves out in a smooth pathway before them.

It was not long, therefore, before they reached San Giorgio, and there the stranger landed, bidding the old fisherman wait for him.

Presently the stranger came out of the church again and with him came a young knight. He was straight as an arrow, upright as a dart, and his face was very good to look upon, it was so brave and beautiful.

Both the men entered the boat, and the stranger, turning to the fisherman, said quietly, "Now, thou shalt row us over to San Niccolo di Lido."

"But how is that possible?" cried the old fisherman, throwing out his hands. "Even were it fair weather it would be impossible to row so far with but one oar."

"It shall be possible for thee," answered the stranger calmly, "and remember thou shalt be paid generously."

Well, the fisherman looked at the wide stretch of angry waters and then at the quiet face of the stranger, and took up his oar again.

"We shall certainly all be drowned," he said. But he pushed off once more and set out in the direction of San Niccolo di Lido.

And just as it had happened before, the waves spread themselves out smoothly under the little boat, and the fisherman rowed without the slightest difficulty until they came to San Niccolo di Lido.

Then both the men got out, again bidding the fisherman wait for them.

This time they came back with an old man, dressed in the robes of a bishop. He had a kind, gentle face, and even to look at him comforted the heart of the frightened old fisherman.

"Now, row to the gates of the two castles," said the stranger, when all three were safely in the boat.

"But that is the open sea," said the fisherman, trembling with fear; "we shall be certainly overwhelmed."

"Row boldly," said the stranger, "and fear naught."

The winds howled and the waves roared, and the tempest shrieked louder than ever. It seemed impossible that a little boat could live in such angry waters.

And lo! when they came to the gates of the sea, a terrible sight met the eyes of the old fisherman. Sweeping down upon them, full in front, was a huge ship or galley with all sails set. The ship was crowded in every corner with black demons whose shrieks rang even louder than the scream of the wind.

On and on they came, tearing through the waves, and the old fisherman fell on his knees and began to say his prayers, for he thought in another moment his boat would be swallowed up.

But the stranger and the knight and the old bishop rose to their feet, and with uplifted hands they calmly made the Sign of the Cross as the demon ship came near. Instantly the waters grew still, the wind dropped, and the demon ship disappeared with a sound like the crack of thunder.

"Now row us back from whence we came," said the stranger.

And the trembling old fisherman obeyed, wondering greatly what all this could mean. One thing he felt sure of. That demon ship had been on its way to overwhelm and destroy Venice, and he rejoiced to think his beloved city was now safe.

So back they went to San Niccolo di Lido, and there they left the old bishop; then on to San Giorgio, and there the brave knight silently landed.

But when the old fisherman rowed back to the Riva di San Marco, and the stranger was about to land, he began to bethink himself of the promised payment.

"Miracles are wonderful things," he said to himself, "but I want something more than miracles."

So he stood with his hat in his hand, and asked the stranger to pay him as he had promised.

"Thou art right," said the stranger. "I must not forget thee. Thou shalt be well rewarded. Dost thou know for whom thou hast worked to-night? I am Saint Mark, the patron saint of this city. The young knight we took with us was the brave Saint George, and the bishop was none other than the good Saint Nicholas. Together we have saved Venice. For had it not been for us the demons would utterly have destroyed her. To-morrow thou shalt go to the Doge and tell him all thou hast seen, and how Venice was saved with thy help, and he will reward thee."

The old fisherman shook his head.

"And how will the Doge know that I speak the truth?" he asked. For though he held Saint Mark in great reverence, and felt how great an honour it was for the saint to talk with him, he still felt a little anxious about the payment.

Then Saint Mark drew a ring off his finger and handed it to the old fisherman.

"Take this ring," he said, "and show it to the Doge, and tell him I gave it to thee. Then should he still doubt thy word, bid him look in the treasury of San Marco, and he will find the ring is no longer there."

So the old fisherman took the ring and thanked the Saint. And the next day he went as early as possible to the Doge and told him the whole story of what had happened, showing him the ring.

The Doge sent quickly to search in the treasury for the Saint's ring, which was always kept there, but they found it had disappeared. So they were sure that it was Saint Mark himself who had given it to the old fisherman. Whereupon there was a great thanksgiving service held in Venice, and a solemn procession went to each of the three churches, where the bones of the saints were enshrined.

The old fisherman was not only rewarded with gold, but a certain privilege was granted to him. He alone was allowed the right of selling the silver sand from the shore of the Lido. So he grew richer than any fisherman in Venice, but in spite of his riches he always lived in his little boat under the white marble bridge. And when he died the city rulers ordered that little marble picture to be made, with the boats carved beneath it, in memory of the old fisherman who had helped to save Venice that terrible night from the vengeance of the demon crew.

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