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A Garden in Venice

Garden art & lifestyle

WHY DO VENETIANS WANT TO SAVE POVEGLIA, THE ISLAND WITH NOTHING BUT A NAME

What is the big picture behind Venetians joining forces to acquire lagoon island Poveglia: For centuries, a comprehensive network consisting of continuous exchanges between Venice and the islands, where each had precise functions to fulfill in the lagoon, had been in place.
It would be fatal to consider Venice and the islands of the lagoon apart, and the islands as simply "orbiting" around town, as separate entities. Formerly, some islands were used for fishing, others for tending salt pans, others again for farming and vegetable gardens, but also for artisans like glass making, for military purposes and as hospitals (the Lazzaretto islands - BTW Poveglia did not belong to these until the end of the Republic of Venice).
The islands "orbiting" around Venice: Seen from the Campanile di San Marco: southern lagoon islands lined up in a row, in the foreground you see San Giorgio Maggiore, behind is San Servolo, behind would be San Lazzaro degli Armeni and La Grazia
Under the title of Assocazione Poveglia: Poveglia per tutti: 99 EURO per 99 anni (Poveglia for everyone: 99 EURO for 99 years) you can read how Associazione Poveglia was founded in April 2014 by inhabitants of the Giudecca island. You can actually make out a curious connection between Giudecca and Poveglia that exists since the year 1379, if you take a closer look at historic documentation - Poveglia inhabitants had to leave their island, as it became one of the fortifications the Serenissima built to ward off Genoese occupants, and resettle on the Giudecca island. But there is a larger picture BEHIND this initiative of Venetians to save the island, embedded in the lagoon environment with common features and characteristics.
"Out in the lagoon": Poveglia is located just 500 meters off the Lido, across from Malamocco, I took this picture on a boat trip to the Lido. Poveglia in this picture is barely visible as it is in the far background.
Le isole abbandonate vs. il crepuscolo della laguna: The current state of a part of the lagoon - "Abandoned islands" and their "sundown": Why Venetians created this initiative:
The southern islands, often used for hospitals, monasteries and for military purposes, both by the Republic of Venice and the French and Austrian governments in the 19th century, were not inhabited on a permanent basis by families of fishermen, artisans and farmers, in the way the islands north of Venice, like Murano, Burano and Mazzorbo were.  In the last few years, "solutions" for the re-utilization of the larger islands in the Southern lagoon have been mentioned, and some have been put into practice: southern lagoon islands were turned into hotel resorts, seemingly lonely out in the lagoon but sufficiently near to reach Venice. It happened to the island of San Clemente, where a luxury hotel opened in 2003, and also to Sacca Sessola where a Marriot resort hotel is being scheduled to open in February 2015. By the way, "sacca" means "filled-in place", that means that the island has been created artificially and consists of land-fill material. Sacca Sessola is the youngest island of the lagoon, created in 1870, so it was not there during the times of the Venetian Republic. The island of San Biagio is on its way to become a "multi-media park".
In the background you can see the island of Sacca Sessola, behind the Giudecca island, seen from the Campanile
So when a few weeks ago the Italian Government Agency announced the final sale of yet another lagoon island, Venetians reacted. Quickly, an association - Poveglia per tutti - click here for a brief film viewed at the Telegiornale -  was set up by about 30 Venetians: the group includes architects, engineers, business people, gardeners and individual persons, pensioners and everyone else interested. The community is growing ..
Poveglia consists of three smaller islands including the octagon
Where is Poveglia located?
Poveglia is not so far off the route vaporetto boats take (line 11) when going from the Lido to Chioggia. You cannot reach the island by public boat even though it is just about 500 meters away from Malamocco, a small village situated on the Lido. To the north of Poveglia, shallow waters at low tide allow for catching caparozzoli, which means Venetians sometimes go out there by boat, get themselves into the water and dig the mussles up with their hands from the sandy grounds. So it is a very quiet environment, full of light and sea breeze. There is also a sort of archeological "quadrilatero", in the waters between the islands of Poveglia, Campana, Fisolo and Ottagono Abbandonato, where wooden poles safeguard a shallow area used for archeological research: Here, Roman villas have been found, it was here that the pathway from Ravenna to Altino crossed the lagoon (I Sette Mari - the Seven Seas).
Poveglia is located at a cross-roads of canals: Along the Lido the Canale delle Scoasse is running, while the Canale di Santo Spirito leads directly towards San Marco. Canale di Poveglia leads towards the island of Ex-Poveglia.
Below you can see the various colors of deeper and more shallow waters of the lagoon.
Poveglia - Google Maps
What does Poveglia look like today?
Poveglia was formerly called "Popilia" which may be due to the fact that many poplars were growing in this place. Venetians themselves have never heard of ghost stories in connection with Poveglia - but of stories of gardens, and a beautiful vera da pozzo (stolen in 1856) and the privileges its inhabitants enjoyed as they had helped defend the lagoon against Pipin (son of Charlemagne) in 809 AD.
Poplars grow numerous even today on the Lido which is just across the island. A wilderness of lush plants, from pomegranate trees to acacias, hawthorns, ivory, climbers like vines and the omnipresent tamarisks abound and also line the inland canal as I have seen from pictures. There are also rests of vineyards. On the one end, you can see the octagon built in 1379, which served as a military fortification ...
Poveglia, State Archive, Republic of Venice
The island houses remnants of eleven buildings, amongst them the bell tower of the former Church of San Vitale (church was dismantled), divided in two parts by a canal. It's an oasis of peace and quiet and a sanctuary for birds, lizards and wild rabbits, acting as a sort of guardians, according to a recent article by La Nuova Venezia.
A large internal canal is dividng Poveglia into two parts (photo credit: Google)
During the times of the Venetian Republic, the island has never been used as lazaret for bubonic plague patients. 
Poveglia was inhabited until 1379, then its inhabitants, during the war of Chioggia with the Genoese fleet occupying the lagoon, were invited to resettle in Venice (Giudecca mostly), as their island was used for fortifications (the octagon was built then) to safeguard the southern entrance of the lagoon. In the year 1661, the former inhabitants were allegedly given a chance to go back to their island, but they refused to do so for some reason. It was only under Austrian rule that this island was used as quarantine station for cholera and yellow fever patients by the Austrian State for its merchant ports in the Northern Adriatic. Poveglia was completely abandoned in 1968.
Today, Poveglia is simply an island that wants attention .. and was included in a plan to be sold to investors with the intention of developing tourist facilities. It is an island situated in the midst of barene and velme, marshy flooded islands in the southern lagoon, not harmful to anyone, with nothing but a name ..
An attempt to return the island to the Venetians: 
A sustainable urbanization project in the form of a NGO structure is being prepared, involving the inhabitants of Venice and the lagoon living practically on the doorstep of this island: there are experts available in the team of Associazione Poveglia to restore the island: architects, business people, gardeners, volonteers ready to help. But they want Venetians to use the island, and of course guests and tourists would be welcome as well, as they are everywhere else in town. Associazione Poveglia participates in the auction scheduled to take place on 06 May 2014, a visible move taken by Venetians themselves that care for their lagoon and would like to decide how to preserve and use it.
Everyone can subscribe at the website "Message in a Bottle":
The initiative is closing a gap, with Venetians themselves taking decisions on the fate of the lagoon, and Poveglia could turn into a large public garden for children and people who love barbequeing and taking some time off in the verdant nature in the midst of the lagoon.
If you want to read about REALVenetian legends, go to the site of Alberto Toso Fei and read his excellent books. The issue of Poveglia is simply .. abandonment. Currently, the island has nothing but a name !!!
If you would like to read more on the islands of the lagoon, I recommend the Mare di Carta Books. Mare di Carta is a bookstore in the sestiere of Santa Croce. I love reading "Navigar in Laguna", which includes hints on history, plant life, fishing, and boat excursions. The lagoon islands are also described one by one in the book - did you know that there are actually TWO Poveglias in the lagoon - the second Poveglia island is called Ex-Poveglia !!
Another book with beautiful drawings, including Poveglia, is "Laguna" by Vincent Brunot, published in 1998 by Mare di Carta.
Poveglia, seen from the Lido side, by Vincent Brunot (1998)


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JoAnn ha detto…
Thank you for this wonderful history of the island and explanation of the current initiative to raise funds. I've shared your post on the Dream of Venice FB page & on twitter, to hopefully educate others and inspire donations! cari saluti, JoAnn
Furbiziahs ha detto…
Dear JoAnn, thank you so much for sharing this post on your pages !! I really loved writing this post, and do hope we will succeed in winning the auction !!! Also thank you so much for your informative site of Dream of Venice, which is one of my favorites. With kindest regards, Iris

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