Are you fascinated by the atmosphere in Venice, its wealth, beauty and architecture? Those in search of Venetian way of life will find much of it outside the laguna at the Riviera del Brenta, the sea coast between Padua and Mestre. During a day trip along the Brenta channel I follow the historic Venetians into their summer resort.
If you are able to blind out the endless stream of tourists and cruise ships and instead to engage in the laguna town with its grand history a fascinating world opens up to you. I admit that I did not succeed at first … I do not like to be a part of a mass and do like to feel special 😉 After my first stressful visit (so much to see!) I found a strategy to enjoy my visits in Venice now. I give each trip a thematic focus (i. e. art, modern art, churches) – that works well for me. With my own agenda in mind I stick to my Venice even with masses and cruise lines passing by.
Summer holidays Venetian style
A boat trip on the Brenta channel (naviglio di Brenta) brings me to the Venetian villas outside of the Laguna, where the rich Venetians spent their summers. The Brenta channel is a natural arm of the Brenta river, about 3 meters deep and completely navigable. By boat is surely the best way to trace Venetian lifestyle …
During the summer months from June to September Venetians fled the Laguna for their mainland villas in the countryside. On the territory of the Republic of Venice’ mainland – present-day provinces Venice, Padua, Treviso and Piacenza over 3,000 villas existed. During the 18th century there were 40 villas along the Brenta channel alone. During the summer season Venetians travelled from villa to villa, from banquet to banquet, just living a very social and gleeful life.
Today 80 of these villas have been preserved and can be visited.
Venice – The trade empire through the ages
During its ascension to big power Venice had colonized large territories along the Adriatic coast reaching Crete. Venice’ wealth was based on its trade monopoly on salt, the import and trade with cereals and trading luxury goods such as silk and ivory, spices and perfumes. Venice controlled trade with goods coming from Northern and Western Europe, too, such as gold, amber, wood and iron. As soon as trade shifted to the Atlantic Ocean instead Venice’s importance as a trade empire rapidly declined. During the 17th century Venice lost its monopoly for trading spices from Levant (countries of the Eastern Mediterranean such as Syria, Turkey and Lebanon). Since the 15th century Venice had enlarged its territory on the mainland, to better control trade in the Padan plain and with Northern Europe and to produce food itself.
Life (and work) on the gondola
On their estates Venetians built grand villas and laid out beautiful parks – a perfect place to spend the hot and humid summer months. The summer holidays started with the journey on the Brenta channel on the burchiello, a special gondola. These gondolas were eleven meters in length and featured a small chamber which was used as an office. Each family employed two gondoliers. Gondolas moved solely by muscle power. To balance their body weight each gondolier had its own “key” of his body weight.
A visit in Villa Pisani
At Strà, 8 km away from Padua, we board the Burchiello. Before boarding we visit the gorgeous Villa Pisani that is rather a prestigious palace than a villa. That is no surprise as the building had been commissioned by the Venetian noble Alvise Pisani in 1720 to celebrate his election to doge of Venice. As he was the 114th doge the villa was planned with 114 rooms. Even though the arras have become yellow during the centuries and have become dark, the furniture looks time-worn and dusty – the interiors are all original! Time leaves its traces on everything! The villas has been designed by the best artists of the time and its highlight is the fresco on the ballroom ceiling which has been painted by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, one of Venice’s most famous baroque painters.
The Pisani family was one of the richest families of Venice and owned impressive palaces in Venice and profitable land. In 1797 the last Doge handed the town over to Napoleon, later it was taken by the Austrians. Napoleon bought Villa Pisani in 1807, but deemed it too small after having spent one night there.
Under Austrian rule many of the Venetian villas were used for military purposes. Contemporary private owners struggle with the high costs for maintenance and restoration.
A day trip on the Burchiello
Today the Brenta channel is travelled for touristic purposes only. Take the Burchiello (this was the name of the boats already during the time of the Venetian summer estates) to go from Padua to Venice or back – a trip taking all day – to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of Venice mainland. Interrupt your water journey by villa visits and meals. You will pass nine bridges and five Watergates on your way.
Disclosure: The town and province of Padua have invited me to have these impressions of Venetian lifestyle – for which I am grateful. My invitation has been an initiative of Gian of Italia Blogtour thank you!.